Deuk Spine Institute - Review in Hospitals, Clinics and Medical Centers, Doctors category from Miami Beach, Florida
*Lawsuit Article from Orlando Sentinel*
Allegations of inflated charges for hundreds of surgeries tied to Central Florida car-crash lawsuits were left unresolved this week by the last-minute cancellation of a federal trial set to start Monday.
The trial had been scheduled for a 3-year-old lawsuit by a Lake County woman seeking to force State Farm, her auto-insurance company, to pay the surgical charges demanded of her by a prominent Brevard County neurosurgeon.
But thanks to a surprise whistleblower, the pretrial portion of the case had for the past year focused on whether Orlando'sMorgan & Morgan law firm, which represented the woman, and neurosurgeon Ara Deukmedjian had worked with each other to inflate surgical charges for many other lawsuits filed against State Farm on behalf of accident victims.
Representatives of the law firm and surgeon have repeatedly denied that allegation.
State Farm had been expected to pursue the allegations of inflated charges at trial, but the lawsuit came to a dramatic, though inconclusive, end after U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr. ruled that Deukmedjian was in contempt because of his repeated refusals to cooperate during the many months of pretrial proceedings.
In harsh oral and written comments, Dalton described Deukmedjian as "combative and obstructive" and "breathtakingly arrogant." The doctor "displays a general attitude of being above the law," Dalton concluded.
The judge ruled on Dec. 28 that Deukmedjian would face contempt sanctions if he didn't drop his claim against the woman for surgical charges plus interest totaling nearly $100,000. On Monday, the surgeon agreed to the deal, robbing the lawsuit of its core purpose. On Wednesday, Dalton canceled the trial, set for federal court in Orlando, noting that the case had been settled.
The lawsuit stemmed from a 2008 motor-vehicle accident in Clermont. The Lake County woman went to Deukmedjian for neck surgery after her car was struck from behind.
The other driver, who was at fault, didn't have sufficient liability coverage to pay for Deukmedjian's surgery, according to court records. So the Lake County woman, represented at the time by Morgan & Morgan, sued her own insurer, State Farm, in state court in early 2010 to get additional payments from her underinsured-driver coverage.
Later that year, State Farm had the case transferred to federal court.
The case broadened considerably in late 2011, when a former paralegal at Morgan & Morgan testified in an unrelated state lawsuit in Orange County that, while she was at the well-known firm, she had observed cooperation between Morgan & Morgan lawyers and Deukmedjian that amounted to deliberate inflating of his surgical charges.
State Farm, the nation's biggest auto insurer, quickly filed a transcript of that testimony in the federal case, igniting what Dalton referred to as "discovery wars." Aided by the former paralegal's testimony, the auto-insurance giant aggressively pushed for and got financial and surgical records from Morgan & Morgan and Deukmedjian.
State Farm alleged in the federal lawsuit that Deukmedjian would not have attempted to collect such payments for his surgical charges through ordinary insurance claims.
Instead, according to allegations in lawsuit documents filed by State Farm, the surgeon performed certain procedures knowing that State Farm would not cover them. Deukmedjian then had the Lake County accident victim sign a "doctor's lien" so that the surgeon could collect directly from any lawsuit "settlement, judgment or verdict."
The company alleged that the inflated charges could total millions of dollars and involve hundreds of personal-injury suits filed from the late 2000s to earlier in this decade.
According to lawsuit documents, the insurance company was prepared to specifically challenge the need for and cost of the surgery that Deukmedjian performed on the accident victim. Gobel said in court that the surgeon was charging more than $91,000 for a 34-minute office procedure.
Deukmedjian would have been the only medical expert called to testify about the need for the surgery he had performed. To cast doubt on Deukmedjian's credibility as a witness, though, State Farm was preparing to make the case that the doctor had a standing agreement with Morgan & Morgan to inflate his surgical charges.
State Farm had devoted much of its efforts in recent months to obtaining Deukmedjian's surgical logs, which, according to the insurer's lawyers, contain "lynchpin" evidence.
The company's main lawyer, Dale Gobel, finally got those logs during a Dec. 28hearing -- moments before the judge berated Deukmedjian for taking so long to provide the records, along with other documents and testimony.
The accident victim was rarely discussed during the lawsuit proceedings. Dalton noted during a mid-December hearing that the victim's presence had become "like so much flotsam."
The judge insisted that the trial would focus on the victim and whether Deukmedjian's surgical charge was appropriate and related to accident injuries -- not on State Farm's broader allegations that Morgan & Morgan and Deukmedjian had inflated surgical charges.
"We're not trying an insurance-fraud case," Dalton said.
Representatives of Morgan & Morgan and Deukmedjian did not return calls for comment about the trial's cancellation.
In a move that limits the implications of this case for other cases, Dalton told Gobel that the "lynchpin" surgical logs could be used by State Farm only for the trial and could not be shared with other insurance companies.
While the federal case now appears to have concluded, the pending state case in Orlando, also in its third year, addresses similar circumstances and allegations.