HAMMOND | Opening arguments are scheduled to begin today in a civil trial against notorious "Nose Doctor" Mark Weinberger and a physician assistant.
The lawsuit -- one of hundreds filed against Weinberger -- alleges the former doctor and physician assistant Joe Clinkenbeard negligently caused the death of Phyllis Barnes in September 2004.
Weinberger, a former Merrillville ear, nose and throat doctor, did not appear Monday for jury selection in Lake Superior Court in Hammond. Clinkenbeard was there throughout the proceedings.
In Barnes' family's suit, attorney Kenneth J. Allen alleges Weinberger diagnosed Barnes, of Valparaiso, with nasal polyps and a deviated septum rather than the cancer she actually had. Allen argues Weinberger's actions were not mistakes but rather an intentional scheme to make money doing unnecessary surgeries.
Weinberger's attorney, James Hough, asked potential jurors Monday whether they understood that sometimes cancer can't be caught or, if caught, may be too advanced to save the patient. He also warned jurors that they may not like Weinberger but asked if they could separate that dislike from the facts in the case.
Weinberger disappeared during a family trip to Greece shortly after Barnes' death in 2004.
Hundreds of state medical malpractice suits cropped up in his absence. Federal grand juries indicted Weinberger in December 2006 on criminal charges he billed insurance companies for procedures he didn't perform.
But Weinberger continued to elude authorities until Dec. 15, 2009, when he was captured on an Italian mountainside. A guide on the mountain tipped off officials that the former Merrillville doctor was living in a tent with high-tech survival gear.
Weinberger returned to the U.S. facing myriad legal woes.
He pleaded guilty in federal court in October to 22 counts of health care fraud for billing the insurance companies of almost two dozen patients for surgical procedures he did not perform, court records state.
The plea agreement, which is pending acceptance by Chief Judge Philip Simon, calls for Weinberger to serve four years in prison. He would have faced more than 100 years behind bars if convicted of the charges without the plea deal.
Sentencing in that case is scheduled for April 27.
Weinberger also faces more than 350 state medical malpractice suits, as well as a federal lawsuit filed by his malpractice insurance provider.