The Houston Chronicle had a very interesting article this past weekend about the tort “reform” group known as Texans for Lawsuit Reform. It seems the group is so desperate to deny Texas consumers a fair day in court that they don’t even bother to do background checks on their own spokes people.
In this instance, a physician the group was using in their unrelenting battle against Texas citizens turned out to be an apparently stunningly bad doctor. Here are excerpts from the story:
Retired orthopedic surgeon Forney Fleming was just what the doctor ordered, or so Texans for Lawsuit Reform thought.
He was eager to bash plaintiffs’ lawyers, particularly those who targeted doctors. So TLR, a business group that has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars bashing plaintiffs’ lawyers and winning restrictions on judgments against physicians and other defendants, signed him up as a volunteer speaker.
Until a few days ago, TLR also featured Fleming’s “supporter profile” on its Web site, where he was quoted:
“I was practicing in a ‘judicial hellhole’ and saw the effect of lawsuit abuse, which was decreasing the accessibility of medical care in Jefferson County.”
Fleming, however, left out some details of his professional life, including his reprimand and $7,500 fine by the Texas Medical Board in 2004 for misdiagnosing what turned out to be bone cancer in a 16-year-old girl’s leg. The leg later was amputated.
The board also accused Fleming of providing substandard care to six other patients, including an 81-year-old woman with a fractured hip. That formal complaint was still pending when he let his medical license lapse and retired last December.
And, according to state records, Fleming was sued or threatened with suits for malpractice three times. All were settled out of court or resolved through mediation for undisclosed terms.
None of his professional problems was mentioned on the TLR Web site, but his profile was removed last week, within an hour after I informed a TLR spokeswoman about them.
Fleming, who practiced for more than 30 years in Beaumont and is a former president of the Jefferson County Medical Society, now lives in Garland. He didn’t return my phone calls.
His regulatory record is available for public review on the Texas Medical Board’s Web page, which TLR hadn’t bothered to check.
The group’s speakers are all volunteers, spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester said, adding, “We have at this point not done a background check on any of them.”
In 2003, TLR’s political action committee spent at least $300,000 promoting voter approval of Proposition 12, a constitutional amendment ratifying new limits on noneconomic damages — money awarded for such things as pain, suffering and disfigurement — in medical malpractice cases.
In a formal complaint filed that same year, the Texas Medical Board’s staff alleged that Fleming, in treating the 16-year-old girl for a knot in her right leg, had failed to review reports by an emergency room radiologist and her primary care physician, who believed X-rays indicated the possibility of bone cancer.
Fleming had seen the patient four times over a two-month period in 2001 before her family took her to another physician, who ordered an MRI. After several chemotherapy treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, the leg was amputated at the knee.
Fleming agreed to a negotiated disciplinary order, entered in April 2004, joining only a small fraction of Texas doctors who have ever been disciplined by the state.
In addition to the public reprimand and fine, he agreed to have his medical practice monitored for three years and accepted certain other requirements, including additional professional education.
The regulatory board’s staff filed another complaint against Fleming in August 2006, alleging substandard care for six additional patients, including the 81-year-old woman and patients treated for fractured ankles, a fractured wrist and a crushed leg.