Has This Fugitive Physician Evaded Justice?; More

Wayne J. Guglielmo, MA 

January 19, 2021

Fugitive Physician May Get Away as High Court Blocks Further Claims

The Supreme Court of Ohio handed down a ruling last month that could lead to the dismissal of about 200 pending medical malpractice claims against an indicted spine surgeon, along with pending claims against other providers, according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The high-court ruling turned on the Buckeye State's medical malpractice statute of repose, which gives most injured patients just 4 years to file a claim against a doctor or other healthcare provider.

At immediate issue were two cases originally filed against Abubaker Atiq Durrani, a spine surgeon who in 2013 fled to his native Pakistan in order to evade a federal indictment for medical and insurance fraud. At the time of his flight, multiple other lawsuits were also pending against him.

The separate cases were both filed within the 4-year window in Butler County, Ohio. But, after several trials ended with verdicts in favor of Durrani and the hospitals in which he practiced, the plaintiffs and their attorneys withdrew their claims and refiled them in neighboring Hamilton County.

By this time, however, more than 4 years from the original surgeries had elapsed. Claimants nevertheless pressed for an exception to the legal limit, citing the state's "saving in case of reversal" statute, which permits a 1-year extension under some limited circumstances. An appeals court agreed, prompting the defendants to petition the state Supreme Court for relief.

In their 5-2 decision, justices found the extension only applied to claims that had failed otherwise than on the merits in a prior action. Since each of the claims against Durrani had resulted in just the opposite — they repeatedly failed on the merits in the lower courts — the statute in these instances didn't apply. In reversing the appeals court judgment, the justices effectively upheld Ohio's statute of repose and barred the plaintiffs from proceeding with their Hamilton County claims.

The ruling is also likely to invalidate the other claims pending against the fugitive physician, along with claims against other providers that fall outside the 4-year filing limit, as a statement released by the firm representing Durrani and his fellow defendants makes clear: The state Supreme Court's decision, the firm said, "will end hundreds of lawsuits brought against [our] clients and many other medical professionals across Ohio, as well as provide…greater certainty about when a medical malpractice case must be brought."

But the firm representing many of Durrani's former patients isn't ready to throw in the towel just yet. It plans to file a motion asking the state's high court to reconsider its decision. And, if all else fails, the firm says it's prepared to pursue the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In Pakistan, the hospital where Dr Durrani has been practicing has revoked his privileges.

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