HUDSON — A back surgeon who has been the target of numerous malpractice lawsuits is defending himself by taking aim at the attorney who filed many of them.
"Gary Roberts has one mission in life and that's to sue Dr. (Alfred) Bonati," said George Thorry, marketing director for Bonati's Pasco-based outpatient practice that specializes in minimally invasive back surgery. "He has filed 24 lawsuits. I can't think of another lawyer who has filed that many."
Thorry's comments followed a June 14 Times report about a lawsuit filed by a Michigan woman who accused Bonati of causing and then failing to repair a nick to her spinal covering that happened during 13 surgeries over seven months in 2006 and 2007.
Bonati and his representatives declined to comment on the lawsuit for the June story, but Thorry last week asked for a reporter and photographer to visit the doctor's offices on U.S. 19. Four public relations staffers sat in a conference room and offered to cooperate. Bonati did not attend.
Stacy Mahan, 41, alleged in her complaint filed in federal court that Bonati had home health nurses care for her in a condominium for six weeks when she was seriously ill and should have been treated in a hospital. The lawsuit says Bonati, who does not have hospital admitting privileges, was "trying to hide his mistakes" by putting Mahan in the "off-site private, unsanitary condominium."
"This was the worst thing I have ever endured," Mahan said in an e-mail to the Times. "It drained me physically, financially, and emotionally. It was very hard on my husband and my daughter who was 14 at the time."
The 45-page lawsuit also accused Bonati, who grew up in Chile, of falsifying information to get into the United States and two medical programs.
Thorry wouldn't discuss details of Mahan's medical condition, citing federal privacy laws. However, he said his boss was "surprised" that Mahan, a registered nurse, would end up a plaintiff.
"We tried to provide her with the best care we were capable of," he said.
However, he was not surprised that Roberts was involved and that the allegations were so sweeping.
"He's trying to throw in everything he can to get some money," Thorry said. "His modus operandi is to throw in everything but the kitchen sink."
Roberts, who is based in West Palm Beach, offered the following response: "They shuffled their surgical patient to a condominium to hide their errors. Bad medicine deserves a jury's response."
Bonati and Roberts share a long history of court battles.
In 1996, Roberts won a $3.5 million judgment against Bonati and his Hudson medical practices. A 29-year-old Hernando County woman told the jury that Bonati and his clinics performed unnecessary and risky surgeries in a scheme to collect insurance money.
The jury found against Bonati, but the doctor declared bankruptcy during the trial. The judgment was later overtured by a U.S. magistrate who said it was "grossly excessive and without support in the evidence."
The Hernando woman's complaint and a number of other malpractice claims against Bonati ended in 2001. They shared in an $8 million court settlement that allowed Bonati and his practices to emerge from bankruptcy. The doctor admitted no liability, and his disgruntled ex-patients dropped their complaints.
In the latest lawsuit, Roberts goes all the way back to when Bonati, now 69, came to the United States. It says Bonati used false information, including fake birth dates and aliases, to get into the country and into medical programs.
Thorry said the allegations pertain to a discrepancy in Bonati's birth date on some documents. His name, which is Alfred Octavio Bonati Ramos, is partially printed on some documents because of its length, Thorry said.
Another allegation says Bonati listed in a state practitioners profile that he attended medical school at Universidad de Cádiz. However he testified that he received his medical degree from the University of Seville in Spain.
Thorry said Bonati's diploma says his degree is from Seville and he does not know where the Cádiz reference comes from, though it may be a clerical error on a credential listing.
As for the lawsuit's medical allegations, Thorry declined to discuss specifics but said that spinal coverings sometimes do get nicked.
"It's rare, but it does happen," he said.
Thorry said it's typical for out of state patients to stay in hotels or condominiums while they are undergoing procedures. He said the institute provides patients with a list of local accommodations but does not make the arrangements.
Thorry said it's not unheard of for someone, especially someone who has had conventional back surgery, to need 13 surgeries, though most patients end up needing about two or three.
"There are some people whose spines are so bad that we have to give it a rest and go back," he said. "Everything we do we try to cause the least trauma possible."
As for allegations that he made up bogus school names to get into training programs at U.S. medical schools, Thorry said those simply were false and dismissed the claims as irrelevant to Mahan's situation. Roberts' most recent lawsuit says those are based on testimony in previous depositions.
Thorry noted that Bonati's license was in good standing with the Florida Board of Medicine, which he called "one of the strictest in the country."
In 2002, the board did put Bonati on two years' probation after it investigated numerous complaints against him. He reached a deal with the board that let him continue practicing under the supervision of another surgeon.
Thorry said Dr. Alexander Vaccaro, a professor and attending surgeon of orthopedics and neurosurgery at the Rothman Institute affiliated with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, monitored Bonati's case for about three months and said he was satisfied.
Vaccaro said through a secretary Friday that he could not comment.
A check with the Board of Medicine shows no pending complaints.
Bonati's spokespeople say he and his staff have successfully performed 35,000 operations during the course of his practice. His Web site includes testimonials from patients praising his work.
Researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.