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Surgeon's wife sues radiology director

The wife of a vascular surgeon is suing a radiologist, alleging he touched her inappropriately at Oak Hill Hospital, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Hernando County Circuit Court.

Karen Flatau, 48, works for her husband, Dr. Arthur Flatau, III, 49, who is a colleague of Dr. Dilip Mehta, 45, the medical director of Oak Hill Hospital's radiology department, according to the complaint filed Dec. 22. Dr. Mehta was also Mrs. Flatau's physician for a period that spanned three to five years.

On May 15, Mrs. Flatau returned some X-rays to Dr. Mehta, who was reading X-rays in an office, according to the complaint. During their conversation, a fire alarm test bell rang and the office door automatically shut as a fire precaution, as often happens with hospital fire alarms.

"Is someone trying to tell us something," Dr. Mehta said to Mrs. Flatau at that time, according to the claim.

As she was about to leave, Dr. Mehta asked for a hug, according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages greater than $15,000. When Mrs. Flatau gave him a "brief social hug," Mehta grabbed her, "forced his tongue into her mouth, grabbed her right breast and engaged in a battery of a sexual nature," according to the lawsuit.

Mehta denies the episode occurred, his Tampa attorney Darryl Richards said.

"The allegations are not true, and we intend to prove that it didn't happen," Richards said. "It's a devastatingly serious charge to anybody, physician or not."

In October, Dr. Mehta had told the Hernando County Sheriff's Office that Dr. Flatau threatened and defamed him in a confrontation that occurred Sept. 21, according to a police report. Dr. Flatau accused Dr. Mehta of inappropriately touching his wife and threatened to damage Dr. Mehta's reputation if he did not take his medical practice out of Oak Hill Hospital.

"Flatau also made threats to destroy (Mehta's) family and take his heart out and lay it in his hands," according to the report.

After the confrontation, Flatau complained about Mehta to hospital administration, which advised Dr. Mehta that his contract would not be renewed.

In November, Mrs. Flatau reported the May incident to the county Sheriff's Office, accusing Dr. Mehta of battery, a misdemeanor. The case was referred to the State Attorney's Office for investigation. No criminal charges have been filed.

Flatau's attorney Bruce Snow of Brooksville said that the seven-month time lapse between the incident and the civil complaint reflects time spent investigating and evaluating the matter.

"It was a decision not made precipitously by the plaintiff but made in the exercise of a well-founded conscience to go forward," Snow said.

When such civil suits are filed, the Florida Department of Health is eventually notified and would initiate an investigation into the complaint, spokeswoman Maureen Doherty said. The investigations are confidential. But the department can take its findings to the Florida Board of Medicine, which disciplines physicians.

"Whenever a doctor allegedly takes advantage of a patient or someone who works with them, they're treading on thin ice," Doherty said.

At this point, Dr. Mehta's attorney has requested that the case be dismissed or that Mrs. Flatau more clearly define her allegations of battery in the complaint.

_ Jennifer Liberto can be reached at (352) 848-1434 or libertosptimes.com.

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