CINCINNATI – Although Dr. Atiq Durrani skipped out of the country last month, the first of more than 160 patients' lawsuits against the indicted Mason spine surgeon went to trial without him Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
Jury selection and opening statements concluded by Tuesday evening. Judge Ethna Cooper said 300 potential jurors had been called.
The first witness is scheduled to take the stand at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
When Crystal Pierce sued Durrani in June 2010, she claimed Durrani scared her into performing unnecessary spine surgery by telling her she was “in grave danger of becoming immediately paralyzed.” Then he botched the operation, the suit says. The pain ultimately sent her to the emergency room.
Pierce claims another surgeon told her in followup that her pain was the result of screws that Durrani wrongly implanted. After Pierce had another surgeon remove the screws, her pain “resolved almost immediately,” the suit says.
RELATED: See Pierce’s lawsuit or read it below
Durrani’s civil attorney, Michael Lyon, told WCPO Friday that there’s no proof that Durrani was negligent.
“Implementation is necessary in orthopedic spine surgery and sometimes it fails,” Lyon said.
“She (Pierce) is doing very well. We don’t think she’s seeing anyone (for medical treatment). The clear inference is that she doesn’t need it.”
Pierce’s attorney, Eric Deters, said he couldn’t comment.
Durrani apparently fled the country when his legal problems reached the tipping point – both Ohio and Kentucky suspended his license in November, citing a 36-count federal indictment against him.
It’s believed that Durrani, a Pakistani citizen, fled to his native country, leaving his two children and ex-wife here. The U.S. Attorney’s office put out an arrest warrant for him in December.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t say how Durrani got out of the country without a passport. It’s believed he went to Mexico and flew to Brazil and then to Pakistan.
Last summer, a federal judge released Durrani after his indictment on the condition that Durrani turn over his passport and not travel beyond Ohio and Kentucky. Durrani asked permission to visit his ailing father in Pakistan, but the judge refused.
The indictment and the civil suits, filed by Deters, claim Durrani performed dozens of unnecessary surgeries between 2008 and 2013.
RELATED: Read the indictment.
The indictment says Durrani charged public and private insurers millions of dollars for fraudulent services. In their suits, many of his former patients claim Durrani’s surgery worsened their conditions.
Durrani professed his innocence in an exclusive interview with WCPO's Tom McKee last August.
Durrani was deposed on Nov. 29, and Judge Ethna Cooper said she would try him in absentia.
Trials in the other suits have already been scheduled into 2015 with 14 judges assigned to hear them.
In a recent motion, Lyon asked Cooper to prohibit Pierce’s side from mentioning that Ohio and Kentucky suspended Durrani’s licenses.
Lyon argued that the plaintiff’s surgery took place in January 2009, and the suspensions “had nothing to do with (her) care almost five years earlier.”
Pierce’s suit originally included Christ Hospital, but Christ was later dismissed.
Durrani’s criminal case is set for Aug. 18.
Durrani owns a private practice called the Centers for Advanced Spine Technologies (CAST) with offices in Evendale and Florence and most recently performed surgeries at JourneyLite in Evendale, where he is part owner.
Between 2007 and 2013, Durrani performed surgery at West Chester Hospital UC Health, Children's Hospital, Good Samaritan, Christ and Deaconess, but he no longer has privileges at any of those hospitals, the indictment says.
The government alleges that:
> Durrani’s unnecessary surgeries resulted in serious bodily injury to some patients.
> Durrani would falsely say the patient was at risk of grave injuries without the surgery.
> Durrani often did not read or ignored X-rays that he ordered.
> Durrani would order a pain injection for a level of the spine that was inconsistent with the pain stated by the patient or the imaging.
> Durrani lied to colleagues and hospitals in order to further his scheme.
The indictment says Durrani made false statements to hospitals as part of his application. He concealed peer review or disciplinary activity by other hospitals and malpractice actions that had been filed against him, it says.
It also says Durrani falsely told a patient that he could not operate on her at West Chester because her insurance could not be accepted there in order to conceal the fact his privileges were suspended.
Deters has sued Children's Hospital on behalf of more than 120 patients, claiming the hospital covered up Durrani’s “incompetence and negligence,” failed to report that he had been fired or resigned in lieu of firing, and paid for settling a lawsuit against him.
Deters’ suit says his clients had surgery from Durrani at West Chester or Journey Lite
after Durrani had left Children’s in 2008. It alleges that Children’s withheld “truthful and accurate information” about Durrani and the plaintiffs never would have accepted Durrani’s treatment if they had known his history.
The government also alleges that:
> Durrani scheduled a patient for surgery on Sept. 22, 2010 but allowed another surgeon, who was not approved as a Medicare provider, to do it. Durrani was present only briefly. But the surgery was billed to Medicare and listed Durrani as the primary surgeon.
> Durrani pre-signed blank prescription pads and instructed others to write Oxycodone orders for 12 patients while he was out of the country in 2012 and 2013.
> After leaving a broken guidewire in a patient in 2009, Durrani failed to tell the patient during repeated office visits paid by a healthcare program. When the patient eventually confronted Durrani, the doctor denied leaving the guidewire in the patient. Durrani then recommended another surgery, paid by the healthcare program, and removed the guidewire without telling the patient.