Tampa Tribune
2/5/2010
A three-member arbitration panel has awarded a former patient of a Hudson back surgery clinic $11.8 million and left the door open for more in punitive damages.The panel found that Alfred O. Bonati and his Gulf Coast Orthopedic Center were responsible for permanent injuries that left William Clark, 71, in a wheelchair.

“We were absolutely shocked. We are still in a stupor,” Clark said of the award. “We thought we had a solid case.”

Bonati and his attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Clark said the award, if upheld, would provide security for him and his wife, Gloria, 69. “The money gives us a great deal of satisfaction that we’ll be able to take care of ourselves,” he said. “It means we can get out and enjoy the life other people are enjoying.”

He plans to share

Clark said he plans to share any benefits he receives.

“First in line is the church,” he said. “Then there will be a great number of charitable organizations.” Since 1989, dozens of malpractice and negligence suits have been filed against Bonati and his practice. Most of the cases ended in out-of-court settlements. In 2007, Bonati was accused of performing unnecessary spinal surgery on a patient with chronic back pain.

On June 13, 2001, the state Department of Health filed a 63-count complaint against Bonati, describing in 529 paragraphs violations of fraud and medical malpractice, including performing unnecessary surgeries, exploiting patients for financial gain and failing to keep written medical records justifying courses of treatment for patients.

Bonati’s medical license is active, according to the Florida Department of Health. The expiration date is Jan. 31, 2012.

He was charged $180,000

Clark, a retired General Electric executive then living in Pensacola, discovered the clinic on the Internet. He since has moved to Louisville, Ky., to be closer to needed medical facilities.

He said he had been suffering significant back pain for years and was attracted by the institute’s claim of minimally invasive procedures.

Clark was scheduled for three surgeries after being examined by doctors and the center in 2003.

He said the first one provided some relief to his right side but that the left side surgery was unsuccessful and resulted in five subsequent operations. He said he was charged $180,000.

The clinic argued that Clark’s back problems likely were the result of his Parkinson’s disease. He contended that multiple and unnecessary surgeries were the cause.