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Can doctors be held criminally accountable for malpractice?

Mary Efurd was hoping to finally find relief from the pain of a debilitating injury. In 2012, she turned to Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon with 17 years of training and experience.

Confidence in gaining the long-awaited relief she needed was short-lived.

When she awoke from the procedure to fuse two of her vertebrae, she could not stand and complained of crippling pain. A few days later, she underwent surgery for the second time. Dr. Robert Henderson took over where Duntsch left off.

Or what he left behind.

Henderson was shocked to find hardware left in Efurd’s soft tissue. The surgeon also found a severed nerve root once attached to the central nervous system, another nerve with a screw in it, and multiple screw holes in an area Duntsch should never have been.

Duntsch’s colleagues described him as overconfident, quick to judge, and even quicker to boast about being the “only clean minimally invasive guy in the whole state.”

He also likened himself to both God and Satan.

Testimony in the trial showed that the latter comparison was more accurate. “Dr. Death,” another moniker Duntsch earned throughout the course of the trial, left “behind him a wake of crippled and dead bodies.”

Yet, despite compelling, first-hand testimony, a criminal conviction seemed unlikely, if not unprecedented. Multiple medical malpractice lawsuits against Duntsch were settled after plaintiffs signed nondisclosure agreements.

Following four hours of deliberation, a jury convicted Duntsch of aggravated assault for deliberately maiming Efurd. He faces life in prison. Efurd considers it retribution earned. She is apparently not the only one.

The now former doctor (his license was suspended in 2013) was also accused of causing the death of two patients and crippling four more. When he was finally arrested on five aggravated assault charges, prosecutors made the difficult decision to focus solely on Efurd’s case.

Investigations show that there may have been more victims of Dr. Death. Like other accusations, those injuries were deemed as accidents or random mistakes.

Not all acts of malpractice are considered criminal. Injuries suffered at the hands of a negligent medical professional require an equal level of justice with the help of a personal injury attorney.

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