A Texas doctor was recently sentenced to life in prison for over 30 botched spinal surgeries that left patients seriously injured, paralyzed, or dead. Although the 44-year-old doctor is the first surgeon known to be imprisoned for a botched surgery, he isn’t the first to botch multiple surgeries or do unnecessary surgeries for profit. A few years ago, my readers may recall my blogs about Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz (Dr. K), who left a trail of medical incompetence in Minnesota before fleeing to Texas where he continued to harm patients.
In addition, serious allegations are being raised and multiple lawsuits are being filed against yet another Texas surgeon, Dr. Stephen Courtney. Dr. Courtney is the co-found of Eminent Spine, which designs and delivers surgical devices. The company slogan on its website video is “Bad to the Bone.”
As in the lawsuits against the other infamous Texas doctors, lawsuits filed against Dr. Courtney allege not only gross negligence, but placing profits over patient care. While Eminent Spine states that it offers quality products at a significantly lower cost, multiple lawsuits contend that the devices are being improperly and unnecessarily implanted in patient’s spines. Furthermore, Dr. Courtney is being accused of installing his own hardware into his patients, a conflict of interest which violates the standard of care. According to a report by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, this practice “can put the physician’s medical judgment at odds with the patient’s best interests.” To date, none of the complaints against Dr. Courtney have resulted in disciplinary action.
So, why do these things continue to happen in Texas? The Texas Legislature has deliberately created a medical system that protects doctors like our infamous trio, and prevents patients from accessing the justice they so richly deserve. In 2003, lawmakers enacted the nearly impossible requirement that patients must prove that Texas hospitals intended to harm patients. Under Texas law, for a hospital to be liable for a doctor’s mistakes, the plaintiffs must prove that hospital administrators acted with actual intent to harm patients—that is, the hospital knew the risks and ignored them.
In most cases, hospitals are also allowed to keep credentialing information confidential. In other words, plaintiffs have to prove an already tough case without access to the necessary hospital records. This means that in order to win a malpractice lawsuit in Texas, injured patients must prove that the doctor entered the operating room with the pure intent to harm the patient. This is about the equivalent of needing the doctor to get on a witness stand and say “on the day in question, I decided I wanted to permanently disable or kills someone”, in order for the plaintiff to prevail. Good luck with that! And, without the fear of litigation, there is no financial motivation for hospitals to police their own doctors, only a moral obligation, which seems to take a back seat to revenues.
And, as if this isn’t bad enough, it gets even worse. Texas tort reform has wiped out the ability of most victims to sue for malpractice in court. These immunities or damage caps are nothing more than corporate bailouts of health care professionals and their insurance carriers at the expense of those who received substandard care and suffered live changing damages. Even if held accountable, the most innocent victims can collect in pain and suffering resulting from a doctor’s blatant malpractice is a meager $250,000.
Furthermore, the Texas Medical Board (TMB) is mostly designed to monitor doctors’ licenses and ensure that the state’s medical practitioners are keeping up with professional standards. The Board doesn’t have the authority to inspect a doctor or to start an investigation on its own. Additionally, it can’t revoke a license without overwhelming evidence, which usually requires a lengthy, and costly, investigation. However, while the investigation is ongoing, a negligent doctor can continue to practice because investigations are kept confidential. The bottom line is that the Texas Legislature has built a system that protects doctors and hospitals while severely limiting patients’ options for holding the wrongdoers accountable for bad care.
Remember this as lobbyists and politicians scheme to strip away your legal rights with the federal “Protecting Access to Care Act” (HR1215). HR1215 does nothing to protect a citizen’s access to care. It is simply the latest measure intended to deny the right to pursue litigation if you or a loved one is injured, maimed, or killed due to medical malpractice, negligent nursing homes, dangerous medical devices, or dangerous drugs.
The way our justice system was designed by our founders (read the 7th Amendment to the constitution) to work, was very clear – citizens have the right to a trial by a jury of their peers; a victim submits his/her case and damages to a jury and that jury decides how much the loss is worth. Unless and until this system is restored in Texas and everywhere else where anti-citizen legislation has prevailed, the Texas judicial system (and other state systems like it), will continue to sell justice to the highest bidder. Is that the system you want? Should justice be for sale? How long will it take Americans to see the reality of tort reform? Until tort reform laws are eliminated and full 7th Amendment protections are restored, serial incidents like these will continue.
Mark Bello has practiced law for 40 years. He is currently the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company, and the author of the legal thriller “Betrayal of Faith” available on major online book store sites.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.