A former emergency room doctor who spent a decade fighting off a medical malpractice case is suing the lawyer who first sued him.
Scott Plantz, who lost his health, savings and almost his family successfully defending himself in court, accuses well-known Pinellas lawyer Wil Florin of coming after him in bad faith.
The complaint echoes allegations Plantz made while defending the malpractice lawsuit: that Florin engaged in malicious prosecution against Plantz and other doctors, trying to squeeze them out of settlement money. Plantz said Florin baselessly accused them of malpractice, knowing their insurance companies would be inclined to settle, all the while relying on a doctor who was unqualified to serve as a malpractice expert to legitimize the malpractice claims.
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"I don't want this to happen to somebody else," Plantz said. "I don't want him to continue this behavior."
In his only comment, Florin didn't address the allegations in the complaint.
"These allegations come from a guy whose death threat towards me was deemed so credible by his own lawyers that out of concern for my personal safety they immediately advised the presiding judge," Florin said, harking back to an emotional outburst by Plantz early on in the malpractice lawsuit.
The malicious prosecution suit is the latest escalation in a clash that began in 2009, two years after Plantz treated a woman in the St. Anthony's Hospital emergency room. Plantz diagnosed the woman, Vineshia Malcolm, with early signs of pneumonia and a chronically enlarged thyroid that Plantz determined was harmless. He offered her a respiratory treatment, prescribed medication for the pneumonia and released her. She was dead within 12 hours, and the cause of death, according to an autopsy, was tracheal compression caused by the thyroid.
Florin, representing Malcolm's widower, Edward John, sued Plantz, attaching a document signed by Miami-based Dr. Richard Dellerson that said Plantz's negligence caused her death.
Plantz disagreed his treatment killed Malcolm, and also had concerns about Dellerson's qualifications. Plantz had been accused of malpractice once before, in Texas, and his insurance company settled, forcing him to accept responsibility. He vowed he wouldn't let it happen again, so he took the unusual steps of shedding the protection of his insurance company and fighting the charge, exposing himself to legal fees and, if he lost, damages. He built his defense around the theory that Dellerson was not qualified to serve as an expert witness.
The protracted legal fight took its toll. Plantz estimates he lost 18,000 hours of his time and more than $1 million on the case. And he blames the suit for exacerbating the degenerative spinal condition that plagues him and straining his marriage and relationship with his son.
A judge ruled in Plantz's favor in 2017, agreeing that Dellerson was not qualified to judge Plantz's care, dismissing the malpractice suit. Late last year, an appeals court upheld the ruling. When the appellate judges declined to take up the issue again in January, the clash appeared to be over.
Until Plantz went on the offensive.
"(Dellerson's) qualifications were challenged literally right out of the box," said Plantz's attorney, Luke Lirot. "What that means is the only fair result in this case for them dragging Dr. Plantz's good name through a medical malpractice suit is that they should pay him for everything that he's lost as a result of this prolonged and protracted litigation that from the beginning should never have been pursued."
The suit names Florin, the law firm Florin|Roebig, Dellerson, John and Gary Fernald, the executor of Malcom’s estate as defendants. Plantz is seeking to recoup $3 million in damages, and asking for $10 million in punitive damages.
“I’d like to have back the money that we paid to all these lawyers to demonstrate that I wasn’t at fault in the first place,” Plantz said.
In the suit, Plantz offers an alternative version of Malcolm's death: that she mixed the medication Plantz prescribed her with other medication, the concoction knocking her out with her head in a position that pushed her thyroid onto her trachea, causing her to suffocate. Plantz said a toxicology test was never conducted as part of the autopsy and that Florin allowed tissue samples to be destroyed, meaning Plantz could never prove his innocence.
"He had plenty of opportunities to stop this freight train," Plantz said, referring to Florin. "And he didn't."
Contact Josh Solomon at [email protected] or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.