Judge: Cancer doc victims will 'never' get fair award
Former patients who received needless chemotherapy and others who received questionable treatments from now-imprisoned cancer doctor Farid Fata will split $8 million from a settlement of their medical malpractice lawsuits finalized Wednesday in Oakland Circuit Court.
The settlement comes a year after Fata was sentenced to a lengthy prison term by U.S. District Judge Paul Borman.
Attorney Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates, said the agreement will provide a way for Fata’s victims to receive payment for their claims against Fata as well as Crittenton Hospital, McLaren Medical Center and Trinity Health. McKeen said the settlement is in the best interests of the plaintiffs who filed the malpractice claims and that it represented the “least undesirable alternative.”
“Unfortunately under these circumstances and under Michigan law, Fata’s victims were never going to receive fair levels of compensation,” said McKeen. He cited several factors, including low insurance limits per claim that, McKeen said, Fata carried. According to McKeen, under Michigan law physicians are not required to carry malpractice insurance and those who do only carry up to $200,000 per claim.
“It is outrageous doctors are allowed to practice with inadequate insurance and hospitals can distance themselves from liability,” said McKeen. “If you are a victim of a negligent, incompetent or malevolent Michigan physician, the damages are ‘one size fits all.’ How is that fair to the family of a victim whose life was taken, or for a victim who will forever suffer pain and require lifelong care?”
Attorneys from another law firm, Olsman, MacKenzie & Wallace, also were part of the agreement to settle the suits against Fata.
A total of 43 claims were filed, according to Olsman, MacKenzie & Wallace. The firm represents 21 of the claims. The remaining claims are represented by nine other law firms, including McKeen & Associates.
The settlement is with Fata, Fata’s medical practice Michigan Hematology Oncology, Crittenton Hospital, McLaren Health Care, and St. Joseph Hospital / Trinity Health.
The $8 million will be distributed among the victims in September and October by arbitrator Rick Boothman. The money will not be split equally; each case will be decided on its own merits.
“This is the very best that could be achieved. It’s very bittersweet but I’m glad the victims will receive some measure of justice,” said Jules Olsman, an attorney with Olsman, Mackenzie & Wallace.
Olsman said Michigan tort reform from the 1990s put a cap of $440,000 on medical malpractice financial awards.
Victims also are getting restitution funds from the federal government.
A website and claim form allowing Fata’s victims to file for restitution was launched last month.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said during a news conference announcing the restitution program that victims “have waited a long time for justice.”
A toll-free number also was set up as part of the federal restitution process for the victims. Federal prosecutors have identified about 553 victims but admit there could be many more.
The website, fataclaims.com, offers claim forms and other information. A restitution fund has been set up with $11.7 million for his former patients’ out-of-pocket expenses.
“It is our goal is to take all of this money that we recovered from Dr. Fata and return it to the victims in some way,” McQuade said during an interview about the restitution program. “I know that what they really want is for this never to have happened and to have their health completely restored and their trust in doctors restored. We can’t do that, but we’re doing everything we can to take his ill-gotten gains and share it back with the victims so that they can at least offset some of their out-of-pocket expenses.”
Money for restitution came from $13 million in liquidated assets of the former Oakland Township resident. Funeral expenses and mental health treatment also will be reimbursed out of a separate $1.5 million fund. But the fund will not reimburse victims for “pain and suffering,” lost wages, attorneys’ fees or travel expenses for medical treatment. Individuals will need some documentation as part of the restitution process.
Ten percent of the total funds are going to the whistle-blower on Fata’s crimes, which included prescribing needless medical procedures for patients who didn’t have cancer while over-medicating others patients as part of an elaborate scheme to bilk Medicare and other insurers out of $34 million. Fata also undertreated some cancer patients, federal prosecutors said.
Fata, 51, pleaded guilty in 2014 to health care fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to give or receive kickbacks. He was sentenced to 45 years behind bars in July 2015.
Fata is in a federal prison in Salters, South Carolina.
About 17,000 patients were seen at Fata’s seven clinics in Metro Detroit, which were operated as part of his Michigan Hematology and Oncology Inc. practice. But McQuade said not all the patients were seen by Fata. Patients saw other physicians at the practice.
At his sentencing, Fata’s former patients and their family members told Borman that the oncologist was “evil” and “a monster.” They told how they or their loved ones were given grueling chemotherapy and prescribed other toxic drugs as they were over-medicated by Fata or his staff. Federal prosecutors called Fata’s deeds “extraordinarily evil.”
“One hundred percent (of Fata’s patients) had been mistreated in some way,” said McQuade. “We want every (Fata) patient to submit a claim. We don’t want to leave any money on the table.”
During the sentencing, Fata pleaded for mercy.
“I stand before you ashamed of my actions. ... It all went wrong,” Fata said. “I cannot bring back the past. My quest for power is self-destructive.
“I pray for redemption. ... I ask the court for mercy. They (patients) came to me seeking compassion and care. ... I failed them.”
The toll free number is 1 (877) 202-3282. There are 35 trained operators to help individuals get claim forms and information about the restitution process. Staff is available 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The deadline for submitting a claim form is Oct. 5.