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Historic Houston Medical Malpractice Verdict
Prescription Drugs Caused Man’s Death
Verdict in Harris County against Rogue Clinic and Pill Mill Doctor. Rogue doctor wrote prescriptions from a cigar bar in Houston to be passed out to his clinics around the state. The doctor never went to the clinics and intended that the narcotics be passed out to addicts for recreational purposes.
My client, an innocent patient who was legitimately seeking pain medicine for his back stopped by the Family Medical Clinic, and was seen by a man he thought was a doctor. He took the medications as prescribed, but had preexisting conditions which a doctor would have known would kill the man if he took the prescriptions. The autopsy showed he took a normal dose, and this killed him.
The jury found for the family in one of the larger verdicts in a medical malpractice case in Harris County. We are now trying to collect the judgment against the Rogue Dr. Maurice Conte who is said to have millions of dollars in case stashed away from his illegal drug prescription activities.
More Details on this Landmark Case
A Rogue Pill Mill was found to be guilty of recklessly prescribing narcotics to a man who overdose and died. The $10.7 million verdict was a landmark decision because it is the first civil damage case in the United States against a “pill mill". Pill mills are described as pain management clinics where the physician prescribes narcotic pain pill with no adequate medical basis. The physician prescribes recurring prescriptions knowing, or having reason to know that the patients are seeking the drugs for recreational purposes because of their addiction.
In this case, Dr. Maurice Conte was a pain management physician for the Family Medical Clinic in the Woodlands, a suburb of Houston, TX. He prescribed over 15,000 prescriptions of narcotic pill combinations in a relatively short period of time, including Xanax, Vicodin and Soma. There is no medical benefit to prescribing this combination of drugs other than for recreational drug use. The risk is enormous because this “cocktail of drugs” will kill patients due to causing one to go into a coma and die. Dr. Conte was the medical director who ran 17 “Pill Mill” clinics across Texas, and made tremendous profits from this practice. He would often write prescriptions while sitting in a downtown cigar bar without even seeing the patient.
Evidence showed he would receive cash payments in return for signing hundreds of prescriptions that were brought to him by employees from his numerous clinics. In this case, he prescribed the pills to Mr. Skorpenske, who had sought the pills legitimately for back pain. He was not known to have any addiction. He went home, took the prescribed dose, then accidentally overdosed as the drugs overtook his mind. His family sued and the jury conservatively awarded 10,700,000.00. Attorney Joe Stephens and Tommy Hastings represented the family, two children and his mother.
During trial, Mr. Conte refused to accept responsibility, but took the 5th amendment to every question that was asked of him. Evidence showed that the clinic advertised that they would prescribe pain medicine, and many convicted persons with drug convictions would travel long distances to obtain the illicit drugs. After law enforcement authorities refused to prosecute, Personal Injury Attorneys Joe Stephens and Tommy Hastings filed suit to seek justice for the family.
The verdict was the largest medical malpractice verdict in the state. After verdict, collection efforts revealed that Mr. Conte had hidden his assets. Collection efforts are still ongoing. The case was filed in the 234th District Court of Harris County, Cause 2009 – 41648, Augusta Jackson, wrongful death beneficiary of Michael Skorpenske v. Maurice Conte, M.D., and others.
The verdict is being described as historic by several media outlets because it is the first known civil jury verdict against a “pill mill”. No one wants to try these cases because the Pill Mills and their doctors usually have no insurance, they are paid in cash, and the malpractice laws protect them.
It is astounding, but true that the Center for Disease Control believes that the abuse of a wide variety of prescription drugs will soon surpass smoking as the number one health problem in America. Rogue medical clinics and doctors are a big part of the problem.
The jury found that they should pay $10,700,000 in damages to the family of a man that died from prescription drugs prescribed by the clinic. The verdict is believed to be the first rendered in a civil court against a pill mill due to a death caused by the prescription cocktail of xanax, some, and vicodin.
Medical Malpractice is committed in Houston, Texas several hundred times a day by clinics that run Houston Pill Mills. Prescription drug abuse is a bigger problem at the emergency room than any other medical problem. The recent wrongful death case that I tried against Dr. Conte and the Family Medi-Clinic demonstrates that the doctors and operators of these clinics put profit over the safety of their patients. In fact, the profits are very high. Evidence that I showed the jury proved that Dr. Conte made $1 million dollars per clinic. Conte had 17 clinics at the time he prescribed, Michael Skorpenske, an innocent back injury the Houston Cocktail of pain medicines that killed him. The autopsy and evidence showed he was not even an addict, and should never have been given the powerful drugs which killed him due to his preexisting lung and liver problems. Meanwhile, the doctor was pocketing $17 million dollars in case per year while signing and writing prescriptions at a cigar bar in the Galleria area of Houston, Texas. He never even visited the 17 clinics where he served as the alleged medical director. It is small wonder the jury slapped him with a 10.7 million dollar judgment, and the Texas Medical Board tore up his medical license.
The bigger question is why the DEA and local Houston Police Department are not doing something more. There have been 2 prosecutions reported, and as Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Amy Davis reported, the Pill Mill problem is an epidemic. There are over 400 illegal clinics operating in Houston, Texas alone. The doctors are licensed drug dealers, prescribing schedule 2 and 3 narcotic drugs for recreational purposes, and nobody is stopping them. Before the trial of the Skorpenske death case, I called Houston's narcotics lead detective who is supposedly in charge of these investigations and asked him to come to the trial. He said he couldn't make it. Meanwhile, Mr. Conte (no longer Dr. Conte), took the witness stand and took the 5th amendment right against self-incrimination over 30 times. The last question was quite revealing when we asked: "Mr. Conte, isn't it true that the reason you are taking the 5th amendment is so that you can keep all the money you made from the clinics, and thereby not accept financial responsibility for the harm you have caused in killing this man?" His answer: "I claim the 5th amendment." He then left the court room, not wanting to wait around for the verdict which was obviously going to be against him and his conspirators. Since it was not a criminal case, he did not have to wait around to face the music.
The jury, with its large verdict, sent a message to Mr. Conte that he needs to pay the family for the harm. The bigger message needs to be delivered through more medical malpractice lawsuits to force these crooked clinics and their dirty doctors to stop destroying the families in Houston. Law enforcement is apparently going to do very little to enforce the State's drug laws.