Lasik Founder Sues MD, Alleges Botched Surgery

Lasik hit by major suit from Henderson
Lasik Vision Corp LSK
Monday Aug 21 2000 Street Wire

Vancouver Sun

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Lasik founder sues MD, alleges botched surgery

Fired executive of Lasik Vision also alleges that there are more than
100 potential claims from patients who need remedial surgery.

David Baines Vancouver Sun
The recently-fired chief executive of Vancouver-based Lasik Vision
Corp. has accused the company's founding surgeon of botching laser
surgery on his eyes.

Michael Henderson alleges in a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court
that Dr. Hugo Sutton "negligently performed" laser eye surgery on him
in March 1998.

He says the operation left him "with a poor result" in his left eye
and a "very significant deterioration" of vision in his right eye.

Henderson also claims that Sutton and two other Lasik surgeons, Drs.
Avi Wallerstein and Dan Reinstein, tried to conceal the extent of
negligence complaints against Sutton.

He alleges that, in addition to 20 to 30 existing claims, there are
more than 100 potential claims from patients who require remedial
surgery as a result of unsuccessful operations.

He also claims that Lasik surgeons conducted a "medical experiment" on
an unnamed patient without that patient's consent.

Henderson alleges he was fired as president and chief executive
officer in June "to prevent him from further dealing with the
professional incompetence of the defendant Sutton."

He seeks damages for wrongful dismissal, including the $720,000 US
that he says he would have made in salary and bonuses this year, and
damages for Sutton's allegedly negligent surgery.

Named as defendants are Lasik Vision Corp., its Canadian subsidiary,
Lasik Vision Canada Inc., and Sutton and his two colleagues,
Wallerstein and Reinstein.

The lawsuit was filed on Henderson's behalf by Vancouver lawyer Dwight
Harbottle.

"We are shocked and dismayed by these allegations," James Watson,
Lasik's executive vice-president, said in an interview Tuesday.

"We feel they are completely unfounded and intend to defend ourselves
vigorously."

He added: "It does seem odd that he would make these allegations
considering he was the person in charge of the company for the whole
time during which these things supposedly took place."

(In May, the month before he was fired, The Sun asked Henderson about
the large number of negligence claims that had been filed against
Sutton. He said he was confident there had been no malpractice and
made no mention of his own alleged problem.)

Asked whether the allegations would hurt Lasik's business, Watson
replied that thousands of patients "have experienced the company
first-hand at the clinical level with great results and very positive
experiences. It's our patients who need to endorse us and we feel we
have their endorsement."

Lasik Vision offers a variety of laser procedures including PRK
(photo-refractive keratectomy) and LASIK
(laser-in-situ-keratomileusis) to correct near- and far-sightedness
and astigmatism.

The firm was founded by Sutton, who recruited Henderson in 1997 to
help him manage the business.

In April 1999, they took the company public on the Canadian Venture
Exchange by merging with a CDNX-listed shell company. That month, the
stock peaked at $6.30.

The company's strategy was to win market share by aggressive expansion
and price-cutting. It expanded rapidly and now operates 31 clinics in
Canada and the United States.

However, the strategy has drained the company's coffers and the stock
price has plunged to 76 cents, making it difficult to raise money on
the market.

The company has also been buffeted by negligence claims, adverse media
publicity and stiff competition.

In his lawsuit, Henderson claims that, after Sutton conducted laser
surgery on his eyes, he consulted Reinstein who told him that the
surgery had been "negligently performed" by Sutton.

He said Reinstein told him he was developing a procedure, known as
Ultralink, that might correct the problem, and advised him to wait
until he had completed development of the procedure before attempting
to correct the problem.

Henderson said he became increasingly concerned about Sutton's
competence and asked Reinstein to investigate the number of complaints
and legal actions against Lasik.

He said Reinstein reported there were 20 to 30 cases where negligence
was claimed or could be claimed against Lasik doctors, mainly Sutton.

He said that, with the board's approval, he "attempted to shield the
public and others dealing with the defendant companies from Sutton's
image and from any further negligence of Sutton."

He said the company filed defamation suits against the CBC and TLC The
Laser Centre, which raised questions about Sutton's competence because
it was "publicly necessary to counter the negative image created."

Henderson noted that, until July 1999, Sutton referred to himself as
medical director, then Wallerstein was appointed national medical
director. Sutton was relegated to medical director of the Vancouver
clinic, then to the Burnaby clinic.

"It was the intention that Wallerstein take control of the negligence
issue plaguing the defendant companies, deal with the negligence
claims and put in place corrective controls to eliminate the
negligence of all surgeons and in particular Sutton."

Henderson said that, in October 1999, Reinstein was also appointed
national medical director, with the intention that he share the
position with Wallerstein.

Their functions included developing a response to the complaints and
legal actions, and identifying procedures to eliminate further
instances of negligence.

By June this year, Reinstein and Wallerstein reported they had
identified negligent procedures performed by Sutton and had
established standardized operating procedures to be followed by all
Lasik surgeons.

However, Henderson alleges, they "did nothing to enforce the
procedures guidelines and cause the defendant Sutton to comply with
these procedures.

As a result, Sutton continued to operate as he had always done and new
negligence cases continued to materialize."

Henderson says he "inadvertently learned that, in addition to the 20
or 30 negligence claims previously understood to exist, there were in
excess of 128 further cases where patients were on the 'Ultralink
list' waiting for corrective surgery. A review of this list reveals
103 potential claims against Sutton for negligence."

He further alleges that Sutton, Reinstein and Wallerstein, tried to
"cover up" further adverse information from Lasik's directors
"including dealings with insurers and the cover-up of a medical
experiment conducted on a customer of one or more of the corporate
defendants without that customer's consent."

No further details are provided.
Original Post
There was a lot more details on this story on the BCTV news broadcast. My family has worked in and around the medical system for over 20 years. I can say it is almost a certainty Dr. sutton is finished with his career in medicine in Canada. I have seen Dr's get out on a slippery slope before (almost exclusively Dr's from 3rd world country's or nations with poor training programs) or Dr's that drink or are to touchy feely. Usualy this ends "voluntary"? early retirment and agreement never to practice medicine in Canada again. Once Dr's that are peers feel a Dr. is not competant and must be called before the College of Physicians and Surgeons It's almost always goodbye mister chips.
What is Ultralink--some form of custom ablation? If so and being on a waiting list for this procedure suggests negligence on the part of the original surgeon, then shouldn't anyone who ended up with irregular corneas be able to make the same claim of negligence regarding their surgeon? Of course, most surgeons don't have 20-30 claims pending against them.

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Patti Brankov

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