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Over 250 medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed against, Dr. Spyros Panos, Mid-Hudson Medical Group, parent of Saint Francis Hospital and Health Centers and Vassar Hospitals, and both hospitals.  Dr. Spyros Panos, an ex-orthopedic surgeon, has been accused of opening patients surgically without performing an actual procedure, botching surgeries, doing unnecessary surgeries on healthy patients, and prolonging patients’ ailments solely for financial gain.  One of Panos’s alleged fake surgeries resulted in the death of 76-year-old woman.  Several lawsuits allege the hospitals failed to notice, limit, and question the high volume of patients Panos would see on any given office day or question the spike in his billing.  He is said to have scheduled as many as 22 surgeries PER DAY (most surgeons only schedule 32 procedures a month, according to industry statistics).  According to his surgical schedules at Vassar, it was not uncommon for Dr. Panos to be in nearly back-to-back surgeries over the course of 12-hour-long surgery days, often with two patients under anesthesia at the same time.  Court records indicate that the alleged “fraudulent claims” resulted in $13 million paid to Mid-Hudson Medical  for Panos’ surgeries and $3.5 million for Panos’ treatments during office visits.  With this kind of money being paid to the hospital, is it really that surprising that they may have “looked the other way”?

A federal investigation dates back nearly a year ago, when subpoenas for Panos’ medical records were served on Mid-Hudson Medical Group, SaintFrancisHospital and HealthCenters, and VassarHospitals.  Meanwhile, Mid-Hudson was working out a deal with Mount Kisco Medical Group that may have been an effort to evade liability.  The transaction would have transferred Mid-Hudson’s assets to MountKisco, leaving Mid-Hudson as nothing more than a shell company that would eventually dissolve.  Last November, Dr. Panos pleaded guilty to the fraudulent scheme; he agreed to forfeit $5 million in assets, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office ordered Mid-Hudson Medical Group to pay $5 million in a civil settlement. Mid-Hudson claims it was an “innocent owner,” having no involvement in, knowledge of, or participation in the fraudulent scheme, and the forfeiture “in no way constitutes or should be interpreted as an admission of liability or wrongdoing by any of the parties.”  Every time Dr. Panos “alleged” performed surgery, the hospital got paid.  How could they accept this flow of money and not know where it came from?  Greed seems to have been the motivating factor here, Panos lined his pockets but the benefiting medical groups and hospitals were just as guilty, just as greedy.  They certainly had no problem reaping the benefits from the money brought in by Panos surgeries.

The latest slap in the face to victims is that SaintFrancisHospital and HealthCenters has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, freezing its assets.  This, of course, raises questions of when and how victims will ultimately be paid.  The hospital administrators concealed, covered up, and hid the truth for years to avoid responsibility for their actions and to keep ill-gotten profits.  Dr. Panos lied, cheated, and robbed patients of good health and Saint Francis covered it up.  Now, the hospital is asking that the court unfreeze the medical malpractice lawsuits and allow them to be settled for insurance policy limits only (no out-of-pocket hospital assets).  Why?  Because it is losing money at a rate of roughly $3 million a month and the hospital wants to sell its assets to pay its debts. Some plaintiffs’ attorneys said they will agree to the hospital’s condition, while others want to wait and see if insurance is enough to cover damages.  If plaintiffs agree to accept policy limits, this limited amount is all they will recover, regardless of their injuries; however, if the hospital succeeds in its bankruptcy proceedings, the plaintiffs are unlikely to obtain any compensation.

I presume that the insurance provider(s) has signed off on this deal; while Panos and administrator conduct is abominable, the carrier’s liability is capped and certain.  Insurance companies like that.  But the whole bankruptcy-insurance capped settlement scheme becomes the defendants’ way to bilk innocent victims, especially in cases like this where multiple cases arise from the same doctor’s negligence.  If the plaintiff’s agree to Saint Francis’ request, they will, almost assuredly, get less than they deserve.  In situations where the damages exceed insurance limits (or insurance limits are unreasonably low), with assets tied up in bankruptcy court for who knows how long, seriously injured former patients/victims are left with taking these limited damages or facing the real possibility of seeing nothing, their claims discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding.

Those of you familiar with my writings know that I am a staunch defender of victims’ rights.  I am, absolutely, opposed to all forms of restrictions on compensation which have commonly been called “tort reform”.  With tort reform, innocent victims are stripped of their rights to just compensation by politicians who accede to the desires to greedy corporate types that contribute billions to their political campaigns.  But this is even worse.  Saint Francis will use bankruptcy to deny victims full recovery, pay its bills with the savings, and come out of bankruptcy smelling like a rose.  The big losers in these situations, as always, are the individual victims who, because of injury, disability and under-compensation, become financially destitute and in need of government assistance.  If personal responsibility matters to you and you support this kind of “bailout” for the wealthy (whether it is called “bankruptcy” or “tort reform”) you are on the wrong side of this issue.  Hopefully, a fairer compromise will be reached and victims will be treated with dignity and respect.  Hopefully the attorneys who represent them will negotiate the best possible result for them.  I will be watching.

Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

17 Comments

  1. Gravatar for jc

    Of course another group of big losers in these cases, should the hospitals and Dr. Panos go into bankruptcy would be the PLAINTIFF ATTORNEYS! Somehow, I would not be sad if they got nothing. I really do not get this one. Mark Bello is against medical malpractice tort reform limits. I guess now he is also against the bankruptcy process if a plaintiff attorney might not get paid.

  2. Gravatar for jc

    In 2008, GM and Chrysler went into bankruptcy. As a result of this bankruptcy, bond holders did not receive all that they were due. Also, some accident victims, who were able to prove that their injury was caused by a faulty car made by GM or Chrysler, had their claims wiped out with bankruptcy. This is the way that bankruptcy works. I suppose that Mark Bello is against this system where car accident victims get their claims wiped out, because of auto bankruptcies.

  3. Gravatar for Jake

    JC: Your comment, as always, misses the point of the article. What is your feeling, AS A DOCTOR, about the surgeon's and the hospital's behavior in this case? I have read numerous articles about this situation and NO ONE has criticized the lawyers in the case. You are the first to ignore the medical/hospital behavior and, instead, bash the lawyers who have done nothing wrong. Can you try, for once, to be unbiased and objective?

  4. Gravatar for jc

    Jake, I am trying to be empathetic to these poor patients. Obviously, I do not believe that this should happen, and where I practice, I rarely see this. I know, in this instance, the lawyers may have done nothing wrong. But here is a suggestion to help these poor patients: Why don't the lawyers dramatically reduce their legal contingency fees to these poor patients and allow the poor patients to keep more of whatever meager judgements that they get? This would be a very humanitarian thing that these lawyers could do and would greatly help the patients who have been so damaged.

  5. Gravatar for Albert

    Dear JC, I know I am not as learned as you are,but don't you think a person should be responsible for their actions? Do you think bankruptcy should be held up as a shield when even death has occurred? He has admitted guilt.

    When you say the lawyers may have done nothing wrong, I question the use of the word "may". The person that did do something wrong was Mr. Panos and if the wronged patients are to get proper justice all the groups involved should come forth and admit their responsibility. It would be best for the injured.

  6. Gravatar for jc

    Albert-Apparently, Dr. Panos does not have the money to pay the victims. Apparently the hospitals do not have the money to fully compensate the victims. Sounds like the hospitals are admitting liability, but they don't have the money so they are declaring bankruptcy. Cannot squeeze blood out of a turnip! Mark Bellos is all upset because the hospitals are going thru bankruptcy and will have clean balance sheets after the bankruptcy process. Well, that is what bankruptcy is for! It is to give individuals, and companies a fresh new start all over again.

  7. Gravatar for Jon

    Dr Cox: Don't disagree about the purpose of Bankruptcy. But here, it seems that it is being used as a shield to protect doctor and hospital from being held fully accountable for shameful and harmful conduct. The taxpayers will get the bill for instead of those responsible. When a person or business has a debt to income problem and beds to file bankruptcy, that's one thing. But when a doctor and a hospital make millions doing bad things to good people, they should not be allowed to shield assets from the innocent victims of their misconduct. As for the lawyers, you have no idea whether or not they are cutting their fees; mant probably are and many more do so, routinely, to help clients obtain justice. Your hatred of lawyers blinds you and taints reason. This situation is a medical/hospital misconduct situation, yet you can't resist finding a way to excuse the bad conduct of those in your profession while bashing those who are valiantly trying to hold them fully accountable. Shame on you, sir.

  8. Gravatar for Jon

    By the way, I also find it interesting that your solution to providing justice is to have lawyers cut hard earned fees while allowing the doctor and hospital who earned millions and damaged patients to use bankruptcy to prevent full collection of their assets. Are you advocating for them to keep the money they made for doing all of these questionable and negligent procedures? The victims and the lawyers should take the hit? Again, your hatred and bias is shameful.

  9. Gravatar for jc

    Jon- -Bankruptcy is a legitimate means for businesses and individuals to start fresh. It is available to all Americans. So if the doctors and hospitals want to go thru that process, that is their right. The bankruptcy court will take assets as appropriate and distribute them to the creditors on a fair basis. If the lawyers are so concerned about the decreased damages available to the victims, they should be willing to cut their 40% contingency fees and allow that money to flow to the poor victims, to help them out. I do not see how these views are either biased or shameful. It is interesting how lawyers are so concerned about the victims rights except when it impacts their fees.

  10. Gravatar for Jon

    Whether bankruptcy is legal or not misses the point. Getting a 40% fee is legal! but it doesn't stop you from accusing lawyers of being "greedy". Using legal means to avoid responsibility for your own bad conduct doesn't make the bad conduct good. And a system that allows wrongdoers to keep the fruits of their wrongdoing needs to be changed. In your world, the wrongdoers are right and the people who are trying to hold them accountable are wrong and "greedy". You have zero credibility, always advocating for more protection for wrongdoers and distorting the points that good people make when they call out those wrongdoers for their despicable conduct. Do you ever read what you write? Do you really believe all of that crap? Why don't you just go practice medicine somewhere where you can injure, maim or kill patients in the system you so desperately advocate for? Wait, you've already done that here, in America, haven't you?

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