Hospital Fraud Contributed to Doctor's Malpractice

A rare verdict for punitive damages and fraud against a Florida hospital opens a window on the big business aspects of weight loss surgery, which can be unsafe for patients especially when the surgeon lacks experience. The verdict also has lessons for how patients can protect themselves.

A jury in Jacksonville ordered Memorial Hospital to pay $10 million in punitive damages for what amounted to false advertising about its weight loss surgery "Center of Excellence" designation. The same jury said that Clay Chandler, a county deputy sheriff, should be paid $168 million in compensatory damages for brain damage that happened to him as a result of uncorrected leakage in his abdomen after a weight loss procedure in 2007 with surgeon John DePeri, MD.

DePeri, testimony revealed, had performed at most 21 bariatric surgeries before he operated on deputy Chandler. To meet the standards of the American Society Bariatric Surgery’s Center of Excellence seal, he was required to have performed 50 and to have completed at least 20 hours of bariatric education courses. He had taken one.

Memorial Hospital used that accreditation seal in pamphlets given to potential surgery patients of its Bariatric Surgery Center. The seal also was featured on documents DePeri used when speaking at informational forums at the hospital.

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