former fugitive doctor faces hundreds of malpractice claims

Opening arguments were heard this week in a medical malpractice trial that began after an unusually long delay. Before being sued for medical malpractice, the defendant doctor went underground and fled the country. After being on the run for five years, authorities caught up with him in Italy.

Now back in the United States, the doctor faces allegations that he failed to diagnose lung cancer in a 50-year-old patient who subsequently died from the disease.

So far, the doctor’s defense has centered around the fact that other doctors who treated the lung cancer patient also did not identify her disease.

The current trial is not the doctor’s only legal problem, though. Next month he will be sentenced on twenty-two counts of health care fraud. The convictions were for billing patients’ insurance companies for surgeries that were never performed.

As the fraudulent insurance billings were coming to light in 2004, the doctor disappeared while on vacation in Greece. When authorities were finally able to locate him in December of 2009, he was camping on an Italian mountainside.

The doctor faces an uphill battle in his misdiagnosis lawsuit trial as well. A state medical review panel unanimously decided that he, and a physician’s assistant involved in the patient’s treatment, failed to comply with the standard of care. Pennsylvania medical malpractice attorneys point out that since the central issue of medical malpractice lawsuits is whether or not defendants met their duty to provide the appropriate standard of care, the review panel’s decision will be very damaging to the doctor’s defense if introduced in evidence at his trial.

A physician who testified against the defendant doctor this week said that the defendant was more than qualified to identify the patient’s lung cancer on her very first office visit. Instead, the witness testified that the defendant doctor performed unnecessary sinus surgery on the patient, which further delayed her cancer diagnosis.

The defendant doctor’s problems are only growing. He faces hundreds of additional medical malpractice suits, and is being sued by his malpractice insurance provider. The insurance provider is claiming that the doctor breached his insurance contract by going on the run. If a court agrees, the doctor will be personally liable for any malpractice judgments against him.

Source: CNBC “Indiana surgeon on trial in patient’s cancer death” 3/16/2011

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