Last month, a neurosurgeon from Texas was convicted of harming an elderly patient in his operating room. Dr. Christopher Duntsch was indicted on five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of harming an elderly person, however the prosecution decided to only try the latter. The patient, 74-year-old Mary Efurd, was supposed to be undergoing a routine fusion of two vertabrae, but instead suffered severe pain from fusion hardware being misplaced in her soft muscle causing nerve damage. So how did this become a criminal case instead of a medical malpractice claim? Because Dr. Duntsch had done this before and he knew that his outcomes were so poor that Ms. Efurd was likely to wind up injured under his care.
In fact, Dr. Duntsch has harmed more than 30 patients. During the trial, the prosecution explored the cases of several other patients to demonstrate his poor surgical history, including surgeries that resulted in patients suffering a massive stroke after significant blood loss, becoming quadriplegic, and bleeding to death after having a vertebral artery sliced.
The defense argued that Dr. Duntsch “was just a bad surgeon,” but that does not mean he should not be criminally responsible for his actions. The defense team also blamed the system for being at fault as Dr. Duntsch’s surgical skills have been questioned from the start. During his residency program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, he was allowed to continue practicing medicine despite significant questions about his skill level. He was similarly questioned during a year long fellowship in Memphis, but there was no mention of his adverse outcomes when he later moved to Texas. Shortly thereafter, at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, the hospital did not report Dr. Duntsch to the National Practitioners Databank after a patient bled to death on his table and he gave up his privileges at the hospital. He then moved on to Dallas Medical Center where his prior bad outcomes were not disclosed to the hospital’s chief medical officer, despite being known by the hospital’s CEO. It was at Dallas Medical Center where this killer surgeon’s history was finally uncovered.
While cases such as this are incredibly rare – criminal charges against doctors – mistakes made by healthcare professionals are not. The lawyers at Leeseberg & Valentine have been fighting for victims of medical malpractice for over 30 years and have seen similar stories to that of Dr. Duntsch. If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, please contact our office today to see if we can be of assistance to you.