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New Mexico Suit Settled Regarding Alleged Implants of Pacemakers and Other Devices

In every profession, most people are caring, honest, and trustworthy. The medical profession is no different.  Most doctors uphold the Hippocratic Oath, to which they swear to “do no harm” to their patients.  However, a small percentage of doctors do not.  Because of these doctors and medical professionals, medical error has become the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States.  Your doctor is one person who you believe you can trust.  There are too many instances where this is just not true.

Early this year, there was another gross example of medical malpractice in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The following information was taken from a January 3, 2017 article in the Albuquerque Journal.

“In one set of cases, patients were told they could alleviate their lower back pain by an injection of untested and unauthorized hot bone cement. In another set, patients agreed to unnecessary implants of pacemakers and other medical devices after being told their conditions were so serious they might die on their way home.”

The two sets of medical malpractice cases were the biggest in decades in New Mexico and involved so many alleged victims that lawyers had to turn potential clients away.

Both sets of cases were rooted in southern New Mexico and involved smaller hospitals that allegedly allowed rogue doctors to take advantage of unwitting patients. Both included major out-of-state corporations as defendants.

The lawsuits involving an Alamogordo pain specialist who performed unorthodox spine treatments that harmed dozens of patients continue to drag on in the courts. However, the other litigation against a Las Cruces osteopathic cardiologist, Demosthenes Klonis, who was accused of implanting unnecessary pacemakers in patients, ended in 2016 with a series of secret settlements worth millions of dollars.

The settlement amount that each of the 35 plaintiffs received is confidential, but an October 18, 2016 court filing suggests the team of plaintiffs’ attorneys received more than $10 million. Klonis no longer practices in New Mexico.

The former patients sued Klonis, two Las Cruces hospitals, and the American subsidiary of the German medical device manufacturing company Biotronik Inc., beginning in 2010. Klonis was accused of persuading patients to undergo implants of Biotronik devices, including pacemakers, partly by telling patients they would die if they didn’t have an immediate surgical implantation of a pacemaker or defibrillator. Most patients went forward without getting a second opinion after Klonis told them they needed to first sign an acknowledgment that they might die on the way home, court records say. Other evidence showed that the documentation of patient pacemaker results, called interrogations, were destroyed by a Biotronik representative.

The defendants denied any wrongdoing.

The first and only pacemaker lawsuit to go to jury trial ended with a $67 million verdict in state District Court in favor of former patient Tommy Sowards in September 2014.

The award was later reduced by the trial judge to $25 million. But Biotronik didn’t appeal and ultimately entered negotiations to settle the case, as did Klonis and the two hospitals where Klonis practiced – Mountain View Hospital and Memorial Hospital, both in Las Cruces.

“The defendants all took that (original $67 million jury verdict) to heart,” said plaintiffs’ attorney James Bromberg. “And they decided to settle (the other 34 lawsuits) in the face of very strong violations of medical standards and ethical obligations … toward their patients.”

About one-quarter of the former patients had their unnecessary devices removed, he said, but some had “grown pacemaker-dependent.” Others had the devices simply turned off. For some, removal of the equipment was considered potentially dangerous.

Cases like this do not seem to be isolated occurrences.  There have been lawsuits with similar allegations throughout the entire country.

In Kentucky the federal government and over 150 patients who were treated at St. Joseph-London Hospital alleged in civil complaints that doctors performed hundreds of unnecessary heart surgeries in order to boost payments from publicly funded health programs and insurance companies. The procedures included heart catheterizations and installation of stents and pacemakers.

In January 2014, St. Joseph Health System Inc. agreed to pay $16.5 million to the government to settle allegations of a pervasive scheme to bill Medicare and Medicaid for unneeded heart procedures at the London hospital from January 2008 through August 2011. St. Joseph did not admit wrongdoing as part of that settlement.

The first case in which an individual’s claims against the hospital was heard by a jury ended in August 2016.  The jury found that the hospital and its parent company were negligent, and returned a verdict of $21.2 million in favor of the plaintiff.

In October 2015, the United States Department of Justice announced 70 settlements involving 457 hospitals in 43 states for more than $250 million related to cardiac devices that were implanted in Medicare patients in violation of Medicare coverage requirements.

At Theodoros & Rooth, we take medical malpractice cases and irresponsible mistakes by doctors, nurses, and hospitals very seriously.  It is our mission to aggressively represent victims of negligence, fighting to obtain the compensation and justice they deserve.

If you suspect you have been a victim of malpractice, the lawyers at Theodoros & Rooth want to hear from you immediately. We will thoroughly evaluate the facts of your claim and if we believe you have a case, we will fight for you until we get the justice you deserve.  There is absolutely no cost to you until we successfully resolve your case and get the justice that you deserve.

Sources:  Albuquerque Journal, Lexington Herald, and the United States Department of Justice.