Some doctors not disciplined, even following large malpractice settlements

2013-01-28T05:00:00Z Some doctors not disciplined, even following large malpractice settlementsDAVID WAHLBERG | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6125

Every three hours, even at night, Ken Plants dials up his morphine pump and rocks on his therapy ball.

Back and leg pain on his right side came from a work injury, he said. But similar pain on his left side came from surgery by Dr. Cully White, according to a lawsuit settled in 2009 for $2.9 million.

White was supposed to operate on the right side of Plants’ spine in 2004. But he did the procedure on the left side, according to the lawsuit and a complaint before the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board.

Yet, nine years after the surgery and four years after the medical board was notified about the settlement, the board has taken no action against White, who works in Milwaukee.

White is one of at least 21 doctors in Wisconsin who settled malpractice lawsuits for large sums or were found negligent by juries, from 2007 to 2011, who have not been disciplined by the medical board, a State Journal analysis found.

White’s case remains open, but most of the other cases are closed.

Plants, 56, a former carpenter from Bristol, near Kenosha, said his pain has kept him from working, hunting, fishing and playing with his children and grandchildren.

He and his attorney were so motivated to have the medical board discipline White that they took an usual step in 2010: filing a court petition seeking action. A judge dismissed it.

“To see him still practicing just kills me,” Plants said. “I accept human error, but you’ve got to admit it.”

White declined to comment, other than to say through a spokeswoman that he’s cooperating with the medical board’s investigation.

In 2009, a jury found Dr. Lorraine Novich-Welter negligent for causing brain damage to Dan Nelson in 2000. She had trouble clearing a clog in his tracheotomy tube at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, depriving him of oxygen, according to medical board records.

The jury awarded $2.1 million to Nelson, who lives east of Lake Geneva, but the case was later settled without a judgment against Novich-Welter.

In 2011, the medical board decided not to discipline her because she was a resident, or doctor-in-training, at the time of the incident and had no other complaints. She works in Utah and declined to comment.

“I think she should definitely be censured in some form,” said Nelson’s mother, Jean Nelson. “The judgment of a doctor is essential in a crisis situation.”

Negligence but no discipline

Dr. Gene Musser, a medical board member and former board chairman, said the board handles complaints against doctors differently than courts do.

In court, lawyers must show that negligence caused damage with financial implications, he said.

“In our rule, you have to prove that the action created a danger to the patient, and that’s it,” Musser said. “The outcome is irrelevant.”

Autumn Worden was born in 2002 with cerebral palsy and other permanent brain injuries. During her delivery by Dr. Debra Stockwell at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander, she suffered from a lack of oxygen, according to medical board records.

Fetal heart monitoring showed signs of distress, but Stockwell left the room to do another delivery, the records show. By the time she returned about 40 minutes later, the situation had become worse. She called for an emergency cesarean section but it wasn’t done for another hour.

During a trial in 2008, Worden’s mother, Nancy, said her daughter, then 6, couldn’t crawl, walk, speak or feed herself and would always wear diapers.

The jury found Stockwell negligent and awarded $4.6 million. An appeal led to a $4.5 million settlement last year.

In 2011, the medical board decided not to discipline Stockwell, in part because her license expired in 2005. The board sometimes acts in such situations, however. Stockwell, whose last known address was in California, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Daniel Tomas, of the Iowa County village of Plain, died four days after Dr. Theodore Parins removed his appendix at Sauk Prairie Memorial Hospital in 2003. Tomas was 45.

An autopsy found torn abdominal tissue and bleeding, apparently from the surgery, according to a complaint filed with the state’s Medical Mediation Panel.

In 2009, a jury found Parins negligent and awarded $1.7 million to Tomas’ wife, Doris. An appeal led to a confidential settlement.

In a statement to the State Journal, Parins said the autopsy was incomplete. Tomas likely died from a complication of his appendicitis, not from the surgery, he said.

At discharge, Parins said, he told Tomas to return to the hospital if he had increased pain. But Tomas didn’t, despite having bad chest pain the day before he died.

The medical board took no action against Parins. Jury awards and settlements are supposed to automatically generate complaints to the board, but a spokeswoman said the board never received a complaint against Parins.

Sarah Jewell, of Mineral Point, had neck surgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison in 2005 on bone spurs that were causing neck, shoulder and arm pain.

She woke up paralyzed on her left side from a spinal cord injury, according to a Medical Mediation Panel complaint. Her lawsuit against Dr. Todd Trier, who performed the surgery, led to a confidential settlement in 2009.

In 2007, Trier operated at St. Mary’s on Dennes McCartney, 52, of Linden, northwest of Mineral Point.

Trier was supposed to remove an infected shunt in McCartney’s brain. The device had been placed years earlier when McCartney had a tumor removed.

During the surgery to remove the shunt, the device broke and Trier left part of it in, according to a Medical Mediation Panel complaint. A piece removed tested positive for staph bacteria.

Pus started draining from McCartney’s inflamed neck. Eventually another doctor operated and found a two-inch fragment of the shunt. After the doctor removed it, McCartney’s neck wound healed.

McCartney’s lawsuit against Trier in 2011 led to a confidential settlement last year. Trier’s shunt removal “conformed with the standard of care,” according to a statement by his attorney.

The medical board hasn’t disciplined Trier for the Jewell or McCartney cases. The board spokeswoman said the board didn’t receive complaints in either case.

In June, Dean Clinic announced that Trier had stopped working there at a neurosurgeon. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

No pulse for 11 minutes

Nelson, who won the jury verdict against Novich-Welter, was in a motorcycle accident in 2000. He broke several bones and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

He was taken to Froedtert, where he had several surgeries before going to the hospital’s rehab unit.

On his first morning in rehab, a nurse saw that his tracheotomy tube was clogged, according to medical board records. She called for Novich-Welter, who was unable to clear it. Though a replacement tube was on the wall, Novich-Welter didn’t try to change it, records show.

By the time an emergency team removed the clog and revived Nelson, he had gone without a pulse for 11 minutes, according to a Medical Mediation Panel complaint filed by his attorney.

The lack of oxygen caused an additional, permanent brain injury, the complaint says. Also, a condition in which bone develops in soft tissue allegedly was made worse because medications were stopped while he recovered.

“It definitely caused me to be in this wheelchair,” said Nelson, 52, who lives in New Munster, between Lake Geneva and Kenosha.

Nelson said he had started walking, with assistance, when he got to rehab.

Though Nelson is not paralyzed, the bone condition — called heterotopic ossification — makes him unable to walk, he and his mother said. His speech is slurred, and his mental capacity is reduced. Home health aides assist him.

Before the accident and the tracheotomy clog, Nelson owned a restaurant in northern Illinois. He and his now ex-wife, who have two children, were runners.

Jean Nelson said the medical board should have at least reprimanded Novich-Welter “so this is on her permanent record.”

Dan Nelson said the doctor learned a lesson, even without medical board discipline. “Unfortunately, I paid for it,” he said.

Wrong-side surgery

Plants said his pain gets worse throughout each day, though his morphine pump provides some relief.

He can’t sleep more than a couple of hours at a time, he said. It’s hard for him to sit on a chair or a couch for long. He curls over his therapy ball and rarely leaves the house.

“We don’t socialize with people anymore,” he said.

He started receiving disability payments in 2006 but also applied unsuccessfully for dozens for jobs, he said.

After White’s operation, Plants had three spine surgeries by two other doctors. Those procedures didn’t ease his pain much, he said. It’s not clear why.

His right leg and lower back initially started hurting after he lifted a heavy bucket at work in July 2003, he said.

White operated in February 2004.

“When I woke up, both legs were bad,” Plants said.

An MRI showed that White did the procedure on the left side, according to the complaint against White before the medical board. A doctor who later operated on Plants also said White hadn’t operated on the right side.

After the surgery, when Plants told White about his left-side pain, White said it was from how he had been positioned on the operating table, the complaint says. White sent Plants for physical therapy.

In a statement by his attorney, White said the surgery didn’t cause Plants any harm.

Plants said he could have received more money from White if he had agreed to keep his settlement confidential. But he wants others to know what happened.

“For him to sit there and lie to me, that’s not acceptable at all,” he said.

— David Wahlberg wrote this series while participating in the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(30) Comments

  1. tazjr60275
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    tazjr60275 - February 01, 2013 11:16 pm
    Just to add when Dr. Bormes aka THE HACK had been cutting for so long that I felt pressure in the vas which quickly became pain, I screamed for him to STOP he still keep going saying "hold on I think I got it" ...GOT WHAT, what do you need to get that you haven't gotten in over an HOUR ! (Nurse) says"DOCTOR !!!" so he then he stops !!!!

  2. tazjr60275
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    tazjr60275 - February 01, 2013 9:20 pm
    .Dr. Thomas Bormes....Started my vasectomy fine right side 10-15 minutes I relaxed said"hey I'm going to close my eyes ,I don't see why guys are so freaked out about this surgery, wake me when your done ! " He,Beth(nurse) and I had a good I closed my eyes then I decided to ask him something ONLY to see him roll his eyes in his head and smile( Biggest"It" just kicked in face EVER) I closed my eyes and thought what tha heck was THAT before I could even think he said"OK lets go" and took a scalpel to my left side NO LOCAL ANESTHETIC ...I almost jumped of the table "HEY I CAN FEEL THAT !!!!"," Oh sorry" he says,then he lost his mind he was cutting on me for over an HOUR !!!!!! My left testicle went up toward my stomach and stayed there for a week !!!! (Went to Aurora health care only to be kicked out and told they did not want to be legally responsible to go back to him for a fix ) He then did a another surgery to bring it down(pexing), cut the blood supply to it thus killing it(LOST OF PAIN) ! I had to have 3rd surgery to remove dying testicle. He cut into my penis leaving me with a lump of scar tissue at the base ,sex hurts ,I can't sit for more than an hour, can't lift anything !!!!!! So I can't work to take care of my 2 children and my wife !!! This was almost 3 years ago and he still hasn't been disciplined we will see what happens after court in August !!!!
  3. kchartung
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    kchartung - February 01, 2013 8:59 am
    Start w self care - stop smoking, wear your seatbelts and helmets, eat healthy, exercise, lose weight. These simple things will make the biggest difference in your health.
  4. conor mccartney
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    conor mccartney - January 30, 2013 5:44 pm
    Could we re-write the title of this article to be: Jury of lay people find doctor's responsible, Other doctors disagree with those findings.

    Some very smart and educated lawyer was able to convince a jury that the doctor was responsible in these cases, or was just able to convince the jury that the patient deserved money because something horrible happened to them.

    While a group of independent medical doctors saw the evidence and deemed that there wasn't any medical malfeasance.

    Ladies and gentlemen this is why we have defense medicine. Doctors simply don't trust that if they act appropriately that they are protected from lawsuit, so they order tests you probably don't need (sometimes with radiation that is harmful) to cover their ass, and they don't want to be honest with you for fear of what may be used against them in a court of law.
  5. conor mccartney
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    conor mccartney - January 30, 2013 5:25 pm
  6. conor mccartney
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    conor mccartney - January 30, 2013 5:24 pm
    yeah, I also love how they present a handful of cases and try to pass it off as data. As a wise teacher once told me "the plural of anecdote is not data"
  7. conor mccartney
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    conor mccartney - January 30, 2013 5:22 pm
    then don't go to hospitals or see doctors, if you are an adult you don't have to
  8. conor mccartney
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    conor mccartney - January 30, 2013 5:21 pm
    that isn't entirely true as people can sue doctors (as evidenced by the various malpractice suits mentioned in this article), but is the department of regulation and licensing going to discipline doctors by reading X-rays and determining if a doctor should have reasonably seen a small bowel obstruction or whether or not someone factored in albumin deficiency into an anion gap equation for a patient with DKA?
  9. ckm
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    ckm - January 29, 2013 9:29 am
    I was injured by Dr. Charles Koh in Milwaukee during a routine procedure. I was injured with a bowel perforation which caused severe peritonitis. The doctor refused to acknowledge/respond to the symptoms and i came close to death. I lived with a colostomy bag and had many severe surgeries as a result. There was no justice for me, medical tort reform protects the doctors and I am left with the physical injury and much loss of income. There are always two sides to any issue, but as an injured patient, I struggle to survive and had to learn first hand that there was no accountability for this doctor who signed a medical report stating he perforated my colon, but then later denied it. Lawsuits become a money game and an injured patient is no match for a wealthy doctor especially in a state like Wisconsin which gives doctors levels of protection even when they have made a serious life threatening mistake.
  10. johnnyblood
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    johnnyblood - January 28, 2013 11:22 pm
    Well said. How about a piece on medical malpractice attorneys and their overzealous pursuit of damages for their own personal financial gain? Think of the literally millions of medical procedures being done in this state every year by licensed well-trained doctors and how few mistakes are made. As others have pointed out, there is a huge difference between negligence and an unwanted outcome. Every procedure has accepted risks, and unfortunately sometimes bad outcomes happen.
  11. Bucky2680
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    Bucky2680 - January 28, 2013 10:22 pm
    You quoted a doctor who wrote a book in 1902 about how vaccines are bad for people. Considering his opinion was given 26 years before the discovery of penicillin and that he tried to convince people not to undergo vaccines, how is that even a relevant comment.
  12. opinionated1
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    opinionated1 - January 28, 2013 9:28 pm
    wheres the article about corporate nospitals and how they hide bad doctors? this article isnt balanced.
  13. opinionated1
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    opinionated1 - January 28, 2013 9:18 pm
    is there a wisconsin version of the ama?
  14. opinionated1
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    opinionated1 - January 28, 2013 9:17 pm
    The Journal should investigate the corporate hospitals and how THEY hide bad doctors.
  15. badgerfan1
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    badgerfan1 - January 28, 2013 4:41 pm
    Once again the press fails to perform where they really have a responsibility. Instead they go to the emotional anecdotal crap. This type of "investigative" reporting fails to inform or educate the public. It provides a one sided overly emotional picture period. There is a difference between an unfavorable out come and an out come created by negligence. The legal beagles are more than willing to participate in the malpractice lottery in hope of winning a large fee. Divide the above settlements by 30 or 40 percent--that is what the lawyers receive. Further the insurance companies will often settle rather than fight for there client thus taking what they deem as the safe route. For those of you who really feel the medical profession is evil --the next time you are ill go to your neighborhoof shaman and stay out of the ER and hospital. Physicians are human and yes mistakes are made but no other professions (particularily journalism and law) have as high a set of requirement to enter and complete training and then perform at a high level. Treating a patient is not as simple or as predictable as having your car fixed. Further despite what the press and modern belief is, we really are not in control and unfortunate results occur. As far as the AMA, actually fewer and fewer physicians belong and yet it has an unhealthy amount of political influence. That will eventually change.
  16. milton's fried man
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    milton's fried man - January 28, 2013 3:34 pm
    but it it is about those docs.
  17. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - January 28, 2013 1:45 pm

    Good one; that'll grab 'em by the shorthairs! Keep one eye open; you know how vindictive Lefty can be.

    In between Kumbayah drumming singalong sessions, one may slip away and try to burn a 'Blue Fist' on your lawn.

    On second thought, that might involve real effort and Lefties aren't that enterprising.

    Course, they could retain the services of some Occubagger to 'void' on your vehicle.

    The Gotch
  18. Lionhear
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    Lionhear - January 28, 2013 1:13 pm
    I thought this article would be about the doctors who handed out fake sick slips to state employees who called in sick to go protest in Madison in 2011 and 2012.
  19. milton's fried man
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    milton's fried man - January 28, 2013 12:46 pm
    hahah tell us how you really feel!

    I actually agree with you-operating on the wrong side was the only clear cut malpractice and in fact there doesnt seem to be any proof that that caused harm My experience with people with back pain is a lot of the time they won't actually get opff their butts and lose weight, do work hard at the rehab that would fix their problem . instead want surgery and drugs and go on disability. 80-90 % of back injuries involving disks can be solved at PT or in the gym but rarely seem to be.

    the trach issue is a fuuny one cuz the bedside nurse or respiratory therapist should have been able to change out a inner cannula and if that was clogged which suggests to me that may not exactly have been the problem....thus it may have been beyond beside remidiation....dude might have solved the whole trach issue issue by wearing his motorcycle helmet in the 1st place.

    anyway...not sure why the state urinal is here bashing doctors again when a statistical look into morbidity and mortality caused by Govenor wakler's austerity measures might be illistrative of some truley serious governmental malpractice...or as one writter suggests...the de fanging of the FDA during the Bush years and all the deaths that followed that...
  20. HockeyTeam
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    HockeyTeam - January 28, 2013 12:36 pm
    Most professions are 'monitored by themselves' the DRL just is a registrar and middleman.

    Medical problems go before a medical board because Just-A-Guy isn't qualified to interpret the evidence.
  21. pony
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    pony - January 28, 2013 12:26 pm
  22. butte1
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    butte1 - January 28, 2013 11:35 am
    Wow, the idiocy on this message board is at a peak today. Not to mention the conspiracy theorists chiming in with their nonsense..... It's called PRACTICING medicine for a reason people. Of all the stories told in this article only one seems like actual negligence by the doctor. The rest of them sound like a doctor who was legitimately tryin got help in in several instances the patient WOULD HAVE DIED if not for medical intervention. Did the medical help go 100% as planned, nope but that doesn't mean the docto9r should be thrown out of practicing medicine altogether. I'm sorry that some of these outcomes were not ideal and that the people ae suffering but again in many of the instances it's not really the doctors fault. Like the appendicits guy, if they don't do surgery the guy WILL DIE, the surgery obviously had a complication, the guy DID NOT follow medical advice and call the hopsital when he clearly felt pain when he should not have, honestly non of that is negligence by the docotr, actualy it sounds alot like negligence on the part of the patient..... this lawsuits are getting out of control and frankly they lead to MORE porblems as the doctors cannot help pateince the way they want to because they fear getting sued at every turn if everything doesn't turn out perectly..... again it's nonsense. These are people, people make mistakes, mistakes are not necessarily "negligence", if someone was doing something with malicious intent or doing surgery drunk or something along those lines then that is negligence, but doing their best to follow policies and procedures only to have the outcome come out less than favorably isn't negligence, it sucks but this whining by the newspaper isn'thelping anything either. Get a life people quit waiting for everyone else to solve YOUR problems... freaking whiney lazy people looking for a handout as usual at the expense of decent honest people who work hard and are just doing their best to help you, pathetic
  23. Joe_Madison
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    Joe_Madison - January 28, 2013 11:19 am
    Physicians are monitored by the Department of Regulation and Licensing.
  24. Joe_Madison
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    Joe_Madison - January 28, 2013 11:17 am
    If you read the cases in the study, the majority are charged with writing excuses for employees to get off work without proper documentation, being arrested for DUI, having a relationship with a patient and other offenses that are not exactly major malpractice. Very few involve injury to a patient.
  25. reasonable111
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    reasonable111 - January 28, 2013 11:08 am
    I am a health care provider with a master's degree. I believe the medical board exists, not to protect the public, but to protect physicians. I had a valid complaint over a physician's performance a few years ago. I submitted a formal complaint to the medical board, thinking what I had to say would have some credibility. What a joke that was! The medical board found that the physician had done nothing wrong (she lied and falsified records!) Since that time, another professional person had a similar experience with the same physician. I encouraged her to file a complaint, and she did, with exactly the same response from the medical board. The hospital where she worked has let her go, but the board did nothing except defend her. They exist exclusively for the physician and not the patient. Our tax dollars pay for the sad joke they have become!
  26. Drnono
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    Drnono - January 28, 2013 8:50 am
    "The medical monopoly or medical trust, euphemistically called the American Medical Association, is not merely the meanest monopoly ever organized, but the most arrogant, dangerous and despotic organisation which ever managed a free people in this or any other age. Any and all methods of healing the sick by means of safe, simple and natural remedies are sure to be assailed and denounced by the arrogant leaders of the AMA doctors' trust as fakes, frauds and humbugs. Every practitioner of the healing art who does not ally himself with the medical trust is denounced as a 'dangerous quack' and impostor by the predatory trust doctors. Every sanitarian who attempts to restore the sick to a state of health by natural means without resort to the knife or poisonous drugs, disease imparting serums, deadly toxins or vaccines, is at once pounced upon by these medical tyrants and fanatics, bitterly denounced, vilified and persecuted to the fullest extent"---J.W Hodge, M.D
  27. Drnono
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    Drnono - January 28, 2013 8:36 am
    Especially if the "good" doctor ends up killing, maiming, and ruining lies from gross negligence. People, stop being brainwashed my the medical/pharmaceutical cartel.

    "In the last century the practice of medicine has become no more than an adjunct to the pharmaceutical industry and the other aspects of the huge, powerful and immensely profitable health care industry. Medicine is no longer an independent profession. Doctors have become nothing more than a link connecting the pharmaceutical industry to the consumer."----Dr Vernon Coleman
  28. skyward
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    skyward - January 28, 2013 8:35 am
    The problem is that physicians get special treatment and "police" themselves. Every other professional is monitored by the Department of Regulation and Licensing!
  29. Drnono
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    Drnono - January 28, 2013 8:20 am
    Great articles, but how does one access the database at"""

    We are taken to a Cap Times google screen to log in for members only yet there is no apparent way to register to be able to log in!
  30. pony
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    pony - January 28, 2013 8:15 am
    i have an idea, how about an article about all the good Drs do.
    when you artificially invade the body bad things may happen. that is the risk. then do not do the procedure.
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