Millions in malpractice claims to be paid by state fund, not 'Nose Doc'

2013-06-25T19:15:00Z 2014-07-25T13:24:12Z Millions in malpractice claims to be paid by state fund, not 'Nose Doc'By Marc Chase, (219) 662-5330

Nearly a decade's worth of civil lawsuits against Merrillville's infamous "Nose Doc" netted malpractice victims a collective $66 million in 2013. But neither the former doctor nor his insurance company will pay the lion's share.

Most of the money will come from the state-based Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund, which is financed by surcharges paid by the state's doctors and other health-care professionals, attorneys in the cases said Tuesday.

The fund is being tapped to settle nearly 300 malpractice claims filed against former Merrillville sinus doctor Mark Weinberger, who also is serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison for health-care fraud.

Under Indiana law, health care providers are responsible for a fraction of any medical malpractice liability. Excess liability is covered by the patient's fund, which is administered by the commissioner for the Indiana Department of Insurance, an office of state government.

Laura Wegmann, spokeswoman for the Department of Insurance, said the fund was established by the the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act in 1975. Health-care providers pay into the fund based on a graduated scale of risk associated with their practices, all determined by actuaries, Wegmann said.

Valparaiso attorney Kenneth Allen, who represents three former patients of Weinberger, estimated Tuesday that about 90 percent of the $11 million his clients will collectively receive in the legal settlement will come from the patient's fund.

And Merrillville attorney Barry Rooth confirmed that all of a $55 million settlement for his 282 clients — all former patients of Weinberger's — would come from the state fund.

Rooth said financial issues between his clients and Weinberger's insurance company remain unresolved. But he said it was safe to say the bulk of money for his clients' malpractice claims would be coming from the state fund, at an average of about $195,000 per client.

Rooth acknowledged paying into the fund affords Indiana medical professionals with additional liability protections while capping what their insurance companies must pay.

While Weinberger's former patients will finally get some closure, resolutions in the cases didn't come quickly.

Peggy Hood, the sister of former Weinberger patient Phyllis Barnes and a client of attorney Allen, said her family waited nearly a decade for the settlement, which was finalized a few months ago.

Barnes died of throat cancer after being misdiagnosed by Weinberger's former sinus practice.

Allen credits the persistence of Barnes' family in seeking malpractice claims with helping bring Weinberger to justice.

Hood said her sister's daughter, Shawn Barnes, will now have the financial support to move on with her life after losing her mother in 2004, when Shawn Barnes was only 16.

“Nothing will ever fill the void left by Mom’s death, but it’s comforting to know her suffering and our struggle served some purpose and helped all of Weinberger’s victims receive some measure of justice," Shawn Barnes said Tuesday in a statement issued by Allen's office.

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