Updated at: 06/25/2013 4:05 PM
By CHARLES WILSON
(AP) INDIANAPOLIS - Nearly 300 ex-patients of a former nose doctor convicted of fraud after five years of international flight will receive a share of a $55 million medical-malpractice settlement approved by an Indiana judge, attorneys said.
The settlement involves 282 former patients who sued Merrillville physician Mark Weinberger, claiming the surgeon subjected them to unnecessary or fake surgeries. Weinberger, who billed himself as "the Nose Doc," was arrested in 2009 on a snowy Italian mountainside, where he was living in a tent.
The patients began filing the lawsuits in 2004 when Weinberger went missing while vacationing with his family in Greece.
Lake County Judge John R. Pera approved the $55 million settlement Monday, according to Indiana Commissioner of Insurance Stephen Robertson and two law firms representing the patients. Weinberger’s attorney, Jim Hough, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Weinberger pleaded guilty last fall to health care fraud. A federal judge who sentenced him to seven years in prison said Weinberger operated his medical office like a factory, earning more than $30 million before his disappearance in 2004.
Indiana sets a $1.25 million total limit on damages awarded in medical malpractice cases. The first $250,000 is paid by the doctor or his malpractice insurer and up to another $1 million comes from a fund administered by the state insurance commission, said attorney David Cutshaw, who represents some of the former patients.
"This is in no way a normal case," Cutshaw said.
Attorney Barry Rooth said individual patients would each receive an average of almost $250,000 under the settlement agreement.
The $55 million will come out of the Patients Compensation Fund, which is built from fees paid by doctors and other medical providers, said Laura Wegmann, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Insurance, which administers the fund.
"There’s actually no state funding in this state fund. The state just administers it," Wegmann said.
Whether Weinberger’s insurance company will eventually have to cover the claims against him, or how much of them, is still under litigation, the lawyers said.
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