If Greg Abbott has his way, there will be no justice for victims of a Dallas neurosurgeon that killed two patients and paralyzed four in a series of botched surgeries.
As the Dallas Morning News reports, Texas' Attorney General Greg Abbott filed motions this week to intervene in three federal lawsuits brought against Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano on behalf of former patients of Dr. Christopher Duntsch. The patients allege that Baylor Plano knew Dr. Duntsch was a dangerous surgeon and it could have prevented him from killing and maiming patients.
The suits also challenge the constitutionality of a state law that requires plaintiffs to prove that Baylor Plano intended to harm patients. That law is part of the Texas Legislature's 2003 tort reform package. The Legislature removed the term “gross negligence” from the definition of legal malice.
Read more below the jump!The Texas Medical Board suspended Duntsch's license in June of 2013 after physicians complained about him by using phrases like, ” the worst surgeon I've ever seen.” One doctor that compared Duntsch to Hannibal Lecter, “three times in eight minutes.” In a very good article examining the health of Texas' system for dealing with dangerous doctors, the Texas Observer in August of last year gave a descriptive account of Dr. Duntsch's maiming and killing of patients:
The first three surgeries of Duntsch's trial took place on three consecutive days in July 2012, a month after the first complaint against him with the Texas Medical Board. The first surgery went fine. In the second, while doing a cervical fusion on a woman named Floella Brown, Duntsch “removed a bone from an area that was not required by any clinical or anatomical standards, resulting in injury to the vertebral artery,” according to Texas Medical Board records. Brown was later found unresponsive in her hospital room and staff couldn't contact Duntsch for 90 minutes, according to those records. Brown had suffered excessive blood loss and a stroke, according to the agency. By the time she was transferred to UT Southwestern Medical Center later that day, she was brain dead. As she lay dying, Duntsch performed his third surgery, on a woman named Mary Efurd. Another spinal fusion; another routine procedure. Efurd woke up after surgery in horrible pain, barely able to move her legs.”
Responding to Abbott's motion in the suit, one of the plaintiffs' attorney's criticized the Attorney General:
“I think it's absolutely insane that he has chosen to defend the hospital that enabled this … sociopathic neurosurgeon to wreak havoc on its patients,” Girards said. “I hate to think he's doing it to pander to the medical lobby.”
If Abbott successfully defends the Texas law, the patients harmed by Dr. Duntsch will have a much more difficult time winning their civil suit against Baylor Plano.
The bottom line is that the Texas Legislature has deliberately created a medical system that protects Doctors like Duntsch and prevents patients from getting access to justice. In 2003, lawmakers enacted the nearly impossible requirement that patients must prove the hospital intended to harm patients. Lawmakers also capped damages for pain-and-suffering in medical malpractice suits at a mesasley $250,000. And our Texas Medical Board ill-equipped to handle cases like this: They can only revoke a doctor's license after a lengthy investigation that reveals overwhelming evidence against a doctor.
This case is a consequence of the weakness of Texas' under-regulated medical system. As the Texas Observer article notes, the real tragedy is that the killing and maiming of patients by Duntsch may have been preventable.