Ithaca, N.Y. — A surgeon in the Ithaca area has now been sued for malpractice 12 times in Tompkins County Court since 1996, according to records reviewed by The Voice.
Dr. David Schwed was sued in late October by Donna Diconstanzo for complications related to a laparoscopic colectomy, which involves the removal of a portion of the large intestine.
Schwed has made four payments in connection with civil litigation since 2009, two of which were for the above-average amount, according to state records.
Only 1 percent of doctors made four or more malpractice payouts in 15 years in a study of data in the 1990s and 2000s by Public Citizen, a national consumer watchdog group.
The most recent lawsuit, filed Oct. 22 by local attorney Edward Kopko, is the second time Dr. Schwed has been sued in 2014.
At least three lawsuits are ongoing, raising at least the possibility of a fifth payout. Only 0.5 percent of doctors had five payouts or more in the 15-year period surveyed in the Public Citizen report.
The Cayuga Medical Center, where the surgery occurred, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, as is the Surgical Associates of Ithaca.
John Turner, CMC spokesperson, said the hospital has a standing practice of not commenting on pending litigation. Schwed’s office did not return multiple requests for comment.
Dr. Sidney Wolfe, of the Public Citizen watchdog group, said the number of Schwed’s malpractice payouts should raise red flags for state officials and the Cayuga Medical Center.
Schwed has faced no disciplinary action from state officials, according to records.
“It’s multiple payouts against someone, and the (state) medical board doesn’t seem to be doing anything,” said Wolfe, whose expertise on malpractice has been cited by CBS News, The New York Times and other national publications.
“The question is, ‘Why haven’t they done anything?’”
Wolfe said it’s important for patients to be informed of the malpractice histories of their doctors.
“Letting people know about well-established facts about a doctor — including malpractice payouts … is part of a public health responsibility of a reporter,” Wolfe said.
“One might at least raise the question: ‘Would some of the people injured since then not been injured had the medical board acted on these four cases that are between 3 and 5 years old?’”
Here’s the history of civil litigation against Dr. Schwed:
1 – August 16 1996 | Zelaway Sawyer
The nature of the malpractice lawsuit isn’t specified in available court records.
2 – September 5, 1997 | Barry Butterfield and Connie Butterfield
Schwed is accused of improperly placing “surgical clips on plaintiff’s common bile duct.” The case was discontinued in 2000.
3 – October 15, 2004 | Karen S. Osborne
A trial found in favor of Schwed. An appeal has been made, though Osborne’s lawyer declined comment to The Voice.
4 – May 11, 2006 | Daniel A Griffin
Griffin suffered septic shock, hypotension, leading to a stroke, after an abdominal surgery performed in part by Dr. Schwed, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit was discontinued in 2009.
5 – March 28, 2007 | Mark Wilkinson
Wilkinson sought treatment in 2004 from Schwed for an infection. A few days after a surgery, the “seton” — a surgical-grade cord — fell out of Wilkinson’s sphincter, leading to “infection, drainage and incontinence,” according to court documents.
“The plaintiff relies upon the opinion of a qualified physician that the defendant misdiagnosed the fistula,” court documents state. The lawsuit ended in 2007.
6 – November 27, 2007 | James Showacre
Schwed is sued for a “wrongful death” along with several other doctors. The resolution of the case isn’t clear from court documents. The lawsuit was ended in 2010.
7 – March 24, 2009 | Noa Noy and Danny Manor
A plaintiff and her husband sued Dr. Schwed and another doctor for, they said, not properly diagnosing a lump in her left breast.
Judge Judith F. O’Shea dismissed the complaint against Dr. Schwed “in its entirety” in September 2010.
8 – April 27, 2009 | John H Hanrahan III
Court documents aren’t clear about the nature of the suit, but it was for medical malpractice and was at one point ready to move to trial. The lawsuit was discontinued in 2011 because of a settlement.
9 – October 19, 2010 | Bobby Jo Lee
Schwed was accused of “negligently and carelessly” severing Lee’s bile duct, “resulting in a severe and permanent disability to the plaintiff.” He further injured her with an attempt to fix the bile duct, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit was ended in 2013.
10 – June 24, 2012 | Debra Pealo
Pealo suffered “permanent disability” during a laparoscopic “resection” of a rectal tumor, lawyers said in court documents.
The lawsuit appears to be ongoing, with motions still being filed this month.
11 – July 22, 2014 | Leslie Hovencamp
Hovencamp’s lawsuit states the patient had clear signs of bloating and other complications after a colon surgery done by Dr. Schwed. As Hovencamp’s condition deteriorated, according to the lawsuit, Schwed opted to prescribe more medication.
Then Hovencamp got so sick that he had to be taken to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse and fell into a “drug-induced coma” for three weeks. A surgeon at Upstate had to save Hovencamp’s life, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit is ongoing.
12 – October 22, 2014 | Donna Diconstanzo
The lawsuit states that Schwed performed a laparoscopy on DiCostanzo that “resulted in significant disfigurement, scarring and the removal of covering up of her belly button.”
The lawsuit, written by the attorney Kopko, also notes that the Cayuga Medical Center website states: “At Cayuga Medical Center, we want your surgical experience to be as safe, comfortable and stress-free as possible.”
This comes despite CMC’s awareness that “Dr. Schwed has numerous medical malpractice claims and a history of payments that establish that surgical experiences conducted by Dr. Schwed are not safe, comfortable, and stress-free as possible,” the lawsuit states.
This lawsuit is also ongoing.
The Voice will provide updates if we hear from Dr. Schwed or if the Cayuga Medical Center decides to comment.