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Altered Report Leads To $800K Judgment Against Surgeon

Fri, 04/09/2010 - 6:16am

A Los Angeles surgeon has been ordered to pay a Maryland patient and his wife $800,600 in a malpractice judgement. The ruling stems from Dr. Hrayr Shahinian performing an inappropriate surgery and then altering a pathology report to cover up his failure to remove a tumor.

The award included $300,000 in punitive damages for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Shahinian acknowledged that he missed the tumor but denied that he ever altered a document or tried to conceal the error. He said his lawyers are planning an appeal.

In a related note, last November an arbitrator ruled that Shahinian had been improperly stripped of his right to operate at Cedars-Sinai and ordered the hospital to pay him $4.7 million. The arbitrator wrote that the hospital had disregarded the safety of Shahinian's patients by ignoring his pleas for backup surgical instruments.

George Ralli and his wife traveled from Maryland to see Shahinian in 2006. A tiny, non-cancerous tumor behind Ralli's left ear was threatening his hearing. A childhood case of the mumps had already destroyed the hearing in his right ear. The surgeon removed what he thought was the tumor and reported good results to Ralli and his wife. But a pathology report showed that the specimen was not the tumor. A version of the report sent to the Rallis had been edited to suggest that the operation had been a success.

Ralli, now 47, had the tumor removed in Maryland. But he wound up losing his hearing and suffers from chronic headaches, according to court filings. Shahinian said that he didn't see any pathology report until he was notified by an attorney for the couple two months after the operation.

“It was a very small tumor,” he said. “It was in a bony canal. I was fooled by a brown lesion that shouldn't have been there.”

Shahinian has been considered controversial from the time Cedars-Sinai recruited him from New York in 1996. Though board-certified in general surgery, he is not trained as a neurosurgeon. Shahinian said his career has been a constant battle against allegations from rivals at Cedars-Sinai and elsewhere that he is unqualified.

Shahinian said this ruling against him, and several others, were instigated by competing Los Angeles doctors who referred his patients to lawyers. He has been sued for malpractice 17 times in his career. He has prevailed in most of the suits. Twice he was investigated by the Medical Board of California, he said, but the cases were dropped. Public records from the medical board show no actions against him.

Source: LA Times

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