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How Doctors Hide Medical Malpractice in New York

In the last two years, Dr. Spyros Panos has been a busy doctor…but for all the wrong reasons.

Dr. Panos, an orthopedic surgeon formerly employed with the Mid-Hudson Medical Group with offices in Hopewell Junction, Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, has been sued in 122 lawsuits (at last count) alleging that he performed “phantom” surgeries on patients. Dr. Panos had been with the Mid-Hudson Medical Group, a group with physicians serving Dutchess, Ulster, Putnam and Columbia counties, since 1999 until he was fired by the group in the summer of 2011. Dr. Panos has been board certified as an orthopedic surgeon with the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery since 2002.

The crux of the lawsuits filed against Dr. Panos is that he performed surgeries at Saint Francis Hospital and Vassar Brothers Medical Center, but intentionally did not treat the patients’ injuries during the surgeries. The lawsuits allege that Dr. Panos performed fraudulent operations for his own financial benefit. In one of the lawsuits, Dr. Panos performed a shoulder operation to repair a torn rotator cuff, but a later operation on the shoulder revealed that the rotator cuff was never repaired by Dr. Panos.

32 lawsuits were filed against Dr. Panos in 2011 alone in Dutchess County Supreme Court and nearly triple that number have been filed against him to date in 2012 in Dutchess County alone. Dr. Panos has also been sued in Putnam and Westchester counties.

With all of the lawsuits, you might think that Dr. Panos would have a problem holding onto his medical license. Not so. The New York State Department of Health, which monitors and oversees physicians for misconduct in New York, has not filed any disciplinary charges against Dr. Panos. And while Dr. Panos may be the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, no criminal charges have been filed.

It gets worse.

Just in Dutchess County alone, Dr. Panos was sued or is currently a defendant in seven medical malpractice lawsuits between 2006 and 2011. While Dr. Panos’s busy lawyers have settled some of those cases, the lawyers representing the injury victims do not discuss the cases due to confidentiality settlements imposing silence about the settlements.

After years of lawsuits and plenty of controversy over the alleged phantom lawsuits, Dr. Panos seems to be doing just fine. In his personal blog at drspyrospanis.blogspot.com, Dr. Panos states that he is actively practicing medicine in the New York City metropolitan area.

With so many alleged fraudulent surgeries, 122 lawsuits in the last 18 months and 7 other lawsuits dating back to 2006, why is Dr. Panos continuing to practice medicine with seeming impunity?

Is the New York State Department of Health to blame for not taking away Dr. Panos’s medical license, or at least bringing disciplinary charges? Should the U.S. Attorney’s Office have been more pro-active by bringing criminal charges against Dr. Panos? No question about it.

But the real fault lies with the lawyers. No, not the lawyers representing Dr. Panos, but the lawyers for the injury victims. The lawyers who filed 122 lawsuits and counting have the lion’s share of the blame. Here’s why.

When Dr. Panos settles the malpractice lawsuits, the lawyers representing the injury victims agree to confidentiality as a condition of the settlement agreement. The confidentiality agreements impose complete silence on the plaintiffs and their lawyers, which prevents them from discussing the facts of the case or the amount of the settlement.

As a result of the secret settlements, the public is deprived of even the most basic information about the lawsuits. The plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients have zipped lips and not even the monetary amount of the settlement can be disclosed by them. Dr. Panos’s insurance company pays the settlement and the plaintiffs walk away with a settlement check and a binding agreement to remain silent about the lawsuit.

While public sentiment rarely favors plaintiff lawyers and injury victims, personal injury lawsuits have played an important role in establishing a standard of care for doctors and hospitals. When an injury victim settles a case, or a jury returns a verdict against a doctor or hospital, patients benefit by the disclosure of the mistakes that resulted in the injuries and doctors and hospitals implement safety measures and protocols to avoid the same mistakes. As a result, future patients benefit from the safety protocols adopted by hospitals and doctors in response to lawsuits.

Yes, lawsuits have played a critical role in establishing safety standards and preventing future injuries. This is what makes our civil justice system the best in the world (despite what others may tell you).

But in Dr. Panos’s lawsuits, the confidentiality agreements hurt the public by keeping the facts of the cases secret. No one can blame Dr. Panos and his lawyers for asking for confidentiality agreements…hell, it never hurts to ask. But you can blame the plaintiffs’ lawyers for agreeing to secret settlements and by doing so, removing any benefit that the lawsuit could have had in protecting other patients from injury at the hands of Dr. Panos.

The next time someone mentions Dr. Panos at a social function and wonders aloud how he could have hurt so many patients, don’t blame Dr. Panos. Instead, blame the plaintiffs’ lawyers for being willing accessories to the cover up.

photo credit: alanapost red cross donor file via photopin (license)

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