MASON, Ohio -- Hundreds of patients who sued a Mason doctor claiming their spine surgeries were botched may be waiting a little longer for their cases to go to trial.
This week, attorneys for Dr. Abubakar Atiq Durrani and several local hospitals where he practiced filed motions to move hundreds of malpractice cases from Hamilton County, where many trial dates had already been set, to U.S. District Court instead.
“The only reason that they are doing this is to delay trial,” said Eric Deters, a spokesperson for the firm that represents 523 former patients of a doctor who fled the country in 2013 after being indicted on federal charges.
“This is the biggest medical malpractice case in the history of the Tri-State,” Eric Deters said. “This is a half-billion to a billion-dollar problem for these hospitals.”
Between 2007 and 2013, Durrani performed surgeries at West Chester Hospital, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Good Samaritan, Christ and Deaconess hospitals, according to the federal indictment.
Federal prosecutors accused him of performing unnecessary surgeries that caused serious bodily injury to patients in a 36-count indictment in late 2013.
Soon after, Durrani fled the country and returned to Pakistan, where he is a citizen, leaving his wife and three children in the Cincinnati area. He is currently chief of orthopedic spinal surgery at a hospital in Pakistan, Deters said.
“There is no chance of him ever coming back here,” he said.
Last October the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with West Chester Hospital and parent company UC Health to pay $4.1 million over allegations the hospital submitted claims to Medicare and Medicaid for medically unnecessary spine surgeries that Durrani performed.
Yet the hundreds of civil lawsuits filed by former patients still remain. A few of these patients have committed suicide while waiting for trial dates, Deters said.
Many of these former patients are planning to picket in front of Children’s Hospital, UC Health and Christ Hospital on Jan. 15 to protest delays in their cases getting to trial, he said.
Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman set trial dates in many of these cases throughout 2016 – in February, March, May and August -- culminating in one massive trial on Jan. 2, 2017 that could take six months to a year to finish.
“There are no issues the court can determine why these cases cannot move forward as the court is scheduling,” Ruehlman wrote in his Dec. 15, 2015 order.
A few weeks later, beginning Jan. 4, attorneys for the hospitals and Durrani moved hundreds of these cases to U.S. District Court, seeking class-action status to consolidate them. As of midday Friday, 223 of them had been moved to federal court.
“The Defendants are filing these baseless removals in every Hamilton County case which is set for trial,” Matthew Hammer, an attorney with the Eric Deters Law Firm, wrote in a motion to return the cases to state court.
“Defendants want chaos, delay and no trials … the defendants have completely fabricated a basis for removal,” Hammer wrote.
Spokespeople for Children’s Hospital and Christ Hospital said they cannot comment on pending lawsuits. A spokesperson for UC Health said a gag order prevents them from commenting.
Meanwhile, Hammer is asking a federal judge to move the cases back to Hamilton County immediately in order to meet the upcoming trial dates.
The first case set for trial on Feb. 29 in Hamilton County, involving Mike Sand, who is suing Durrani, Westchester Hospital and UC Health for medical malpractice.
Sand’s primary doctor referred him to Durrani after he complained of leg weakness. Durrani warned he could “lose the use of his leg” without surgery, and operated on his back in 2010, according to Sand’s lawsuit.
After the surgery, Sand said he still suffers from the same leg pain as before, plus now he has back pain that severely limits his mobility. He is seeking more than $1 million in damages, Deters said.
“He’s one of the lucky ones, he’s still able to work,” Eric Deters said. “But he’s in a lot of pain, he’s on pain medicine and he’s messed up for life.”
This would be the second case against Durrani to go before a Hamilton County jury. In January 2014, a jury awarded a Green Township mother, Crystal Pierce, $1.04 million in her medical malpractice case.
In future trials, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters will help the firm as chief trial lawyer and deliver opening and closing statements in court, Eric Deters said.