In a long running series of complaints, a Texas doctor has been found guilty of a felony in one medical malpractice case. Many readers may recognize the name Christopher Duntsch, a doctor who allegedly was negligent in his practice for years before finally being stripped of his medical license. Now, one of the several complaints against the doctor have resulted in a criminal conviction.
Let’s take a look at the history of the medical malpractice claims made against Duntsch, as well as some details of the criminal case against him. If you have questions or concerns about medical malpractice, contact our office to learn more.
Texas Doctor Accused of Repeated Medical Malpractice
To provide a bit of background, Duntsch was licensed in Texas in 2011, then went on to found the Texas Neurosurgical Institute. Claiming to offer “minimally invasive” spinal surgeries, Duntsch began facing allegations of negligence just two years after being licensed. Beginning in 2012, and continuing over a span of 16 months, Duntsch was accused of botching procedures that severely injured patients, or resulted in their deaths.
According to reports, two patients died, and others were injured due to surgical mistakes, retained objects, or nerve damage. One patient was reportedly left paralyzed after surgery. Complaints vary, and the damage done to patients was substantial. Among the allegations, Duntsch is accused of the following:
- Misdiagnosing patients
- Using the wrong equipment
- Performing the wrong procedure
- Failing to order appropriate neuroimaging tests
- Overlooking complications
- Using inadequate methods of correcting complications
Duntsch, who graduated from a reputable school and maintained a stable reputation in the medical community prior to these allegations, apparently “flew off the rails” at some point in his practice. In 2013, the Texas Medical Board found that Duntsch was “unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety due to impairment from drugs or alcohol”.
Medical Malpractice Case Results in Felony Conviction
By 2015, Duntsch had lost his medical license and was facing far more serious allegations. Dallas Police arrested Duntsch on five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and one count of harming an elderly person. Prosecutors decided only to pursue the latter charge and the case went to trial.
Prosecutors alleged that Duntsch performed a common, and generally simple, procedure to fuse two vertebrae in a 74-year-old patient. Following surgery, the patient had excruciating pain. It was discovered that the fusion hardware was misplaced into the soft muscle, and several nerve roots had been severed. It was further discovered that there were misplaced screw holes on the opposite side of the spine.
The doctor who treated the woman following the botched procedure testified that Duntsch had done “virtually everything wrong”. As a result, the patient is now confined to a wheelchair and suffers from continuous pain and immobility.
Similar experiences were shared during trial from other patients of Duntsch who had experienced disfigurement or immobilization following surgical procedures. Patients testified to suffering from chronic pain, life-threatening infections, irreparable nerve damage, and paralysis. In total, prosecutors provided 30 patients who testified to suffering harm from Duntsch’s care.
Duntsch was convicted of a first-degree felony in the case of the 74-year-old patient. The Dallas County jury deliberated for only a few hours before returning their verdict. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. He will no longer be a danger to patients.
Medical Malpractice Case Highlights Systemic Problems
While Duntsch was responsible for his own actions and negligence, this medical malpractice case highlights systemic problems on several levels. For example, prior to his founding the Texas Neurosurgical Institute, Dunstch’s practices were already questionable. One patient had already bled to death, and the Texas Medical Board had been notified. Still, he was allowed to continue practicing without restriction for more than a year, during which time, many of the patients described in this article were harmed. There were also suggestions that medical systems and hospitals did not properly communicate about bad outcomes, which allowed him to continue operating on patients.
While Dunstch will spend the rest of his life in prison, there is little peace or justice for the patients he harmed. The 30 patients who came forward describing their physical and emotional pain may feel little relief after the trauma they suffered. These patients must still battle the consequences of a negligent doctor’s actions, including the physical, emotional, and financial burden of botched surgical procedures.
Protecting Your Rights after Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice and surgical errors are unfortunately common in our healthcare system. Every year, thousands of patients around the United States suffer the consequences of misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication errors, or birth injuries. If you are one of those patients, it is crucial that you contact an attorney right away to discuss your legal rights.
Cases like the one above highlight how complex and lengthy medical malpractice cases can be. It is important to act quickly and get help that will fight to get you the justice and compensation you deserve. At Brown & Brothers, that is our specialty. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of patients when negligent healthcare results in adverse outcomes.
To learn more about our services, or to request a free case review, fill out our online form.