Whistleblower surgeon loses malpractice lawsuit

The (Sumter) ItemOctober 10, 2013 

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— The local orthopedic surgeon whose whistleblowing led to the federal lawsuit against Tuomey Healthcare System found himself on the losing end of a jury's verdict.

After a weeklong trial, Dr. Michael Drakeford was found liable by a jury at the Sumter County Judicial Center on Thursday in a medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from 2010 involving his operations on a patient's knee.

The jury heard closing arguments on Wednesday, only to return the next morning to hear instructions from Third Circuit Court Judge George James Jr. and begin deliberations. After two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, the jury returned with a verdict determining Drakeford liable and began deliberating punitive damages.

Before the jury could return its decision, however, lawyers for Drakeford and the plaintiff announced to James they were trying to reach a settlement figure.

It was not known if lawyers for the two sides were able to reach an agreement as of press time Thursday; however, James did receive the jury's decision and placed it under seal. Should a settlement be reached, the decision of the jury will not be revealed. And as a condition of a settlement agreement, the plaintiff will also have to waive any future appeal opportunities.

The verdict comes as Drakeford also stands to gain millions of dollars from the federal lawsuit against Tuomey. Back in 2005, Drakeford ultimately refused to sign a part-time contract to perform surgeries exclusively at Tuomey and instead reported the contracts being offered by the hospital to the federal government. It was these contracts that were the subject of the federal lawsuit against the local hospital that ultimately led to Tuomey being found in violation of Stark Law and the False Claims Act earlier this year.

While the case is under appeal and still open to settlement itself, Tuomey is currently facing a $237 million judgment handed down by U.S. Senior District Court Judge Margaret Seymour last month.

Were Tuomey forced to pay the full $237 million it currently faces, as part of the whistleblower laws involving federal lawsuits, Drakeford would be eligible to receive between $35 million and $59 million. In the past, Drakeford has said any money he receives from the Tuomey lawsuit would go toward a charitable foundation.

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