A chain of South Florida medical clinics is liable for more than $11 million after a patient’s cataract surgery resulted in blindness.
A surgeon who was an independent contractor for Leon Medical Centers Inc. injected dozens of patients’ eyes with a toxic solution, not knowing how highly concentrated it was, according to a consolidated complaint filed on behalf of 14 of the patients.
A jury Thursday found Dr. Jonathan Leon-Rosen acted as an apparent agent of the medical center when he gave surgery to one of those patients, 80-year-old Miguel Diaz. The finding put the company on the hook for the damages even though the jury also found Leon Medical Centers itself was not negligent.
The similarity of the doctor’s and company’s names is coincidental.
Diaz was a Medicare patient at the facility, which has seven clinics. Leon Medical Centers sends patients to outside care providers for surgeries, but it schedules the appointments, does post-operation visits and provides patient transportation.
“That’s part of their business model,” Diaz’s attorney Gary Friedman said. “For older people, that’s quite a sell. They’re not equipped to get a referral, find a specialist, get to a specialist.”
Leon-Rosen performed 16 cataract surgeries for Leon Medical Centers patients on Sept. 3, 2013. He normally injected the antibiotic Gills solution at the end of the surgeries, but he was told he needed to switch antibiotics because of Food and Drug Administration concerns about contamination in compounding pharmacies, Friedman said. Leon-Rosen learned that other doctors used Gentamicin — but he didn’t know they were squirting it onto the surface of patients’ eyes, not injecting it.
“He doesn’t look at the package, he doesn’t look at the package insert, he doesn’t look at the bottle,” Friedman said. “If he looked at any of those three things, he would have seen that the concentration is too strong … and he admitted that in deposition.”
Diaz claimed Leon Medical Centers was negligent because patients reported burning, inflammation and vision issues to the medical center in follow-up appointments in the coming days, but because they were seen at different clinics, no one detected a pattern. When Diaz and 21 other patients went in for surgeries the next week, they too were injected.
Diaz became blind in one eye, and since then, his wife has had to watch him constantly to make sure he doesn’t fall, Friedman said.
“He became increasingly anxious and depressed,” Friedman said. “He lost a large amount of his independence. He could no longer drive. His vision was not focused with the one eye, so that he was not comfortable watching TV [or] using the computer.”
Leon-Rosen, his employer and the surgical facility settled earlier in the case, leaving only Leon Medical Centers at trial. The medical center’s attorneys argued the doctor was clearly an independent contractor, based on his agreement with the company.
But Friedman successfully argued Leon Medical Centers represented the doctor as an employee in marketing materials. The company’s website used language such as “we employ a network of prominent specialists,” Friedman said, and indicated the services were all under one roof. Leon-Rosen also had an encrypted security card for employees only and wore a jacket that said “Leon Medical Centers Ophthalmology,” Friedman argued.
“If you lead people to believe by your words and your conduct that they are authorized to act on your behalf as if they are your employee, then you know what, we’re going to hold you responsible for that,” Friedman said.
The jury awarded a total of $13 million, including $7.5 million for future pain and suffering, $4.5 million for past pain and suffering, $750,000 in medical care and $250,000 for Diaz’s wife, Esther. The award is set to be reduced to $11.15 million, as the jury awarded 80 percent of the fault to Leon Medical Centers and the rest to Leon-Rosen’s employer and surgery center, which were Fabre defendants.
Friedman was joined on the case by colleagues John Seligman and Zachary Friedman, who is also his son. Lauri Waldman Ross of Ross & Girten in Miami is appellate counsel on the case.
Leon Medical Centers is represented by Jane Mastrucci and Lars Bodnieks of Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer in Miami. Mastrucci did not immediately respond to a request for comment.