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Notorious nose doc Weinberger ordered to pay $13 million to dead woman’s family

A former Merrillville doctor who’s awaiting sentencing for health care fraud has been ordered to pay $13 million in the first of more than 350 malpractice lawsuits against him.

A jury Thursday night in Hammond rendered the judgment against Mark Weinberger, the former Merrillville ear, nose and throat specialist.

The award includes $10 million in punitive damages for the estate of the late Phyllis Barnes.

The Barnes family attorney, Kenneth Allen, said the jury verdict “will be enough to send Weinberger a message that he’s not going to reap any profits from his ill-gotten gains or future deals. This verdict will follow him and make sure that one way or the other, he pays for his wrongs.”

Weinberger, who remains in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, did not attend the trial. He’s scheduled to be sentenced April 27 in federal court in Hammond, where he pleaded guilty to 22 counts of health-care fraud.

Weinberger admitted in October to fraudulently billing health insurance companies for $200,000 to $400,000 worth of surgeries he never performed.

He was charged in 2006, two years after he fled the country when clients began to complain and the FBI started to investigate him. He generated national media attention when he was finally caught in December 2009 in northern Italy, living in a tent at the base of a mountain.

In Barnes’ case, Weinberger and Valparaiso physician assistant Joe Clinkenbeard were accused of failing to diagnose the cancer that claimed her life at age 50 in 2004. Weinberger was separately accused of performing unnecessary sinus surgery on Barnes, causing her pain and suffering.

The jury cleared Clinkenbeard of any liability in Barnes’ death.

Before closing arguments, Dr. Dennis Han, an otolaryngologist who treated Barnes after Weinberger’s surgery said he diagnosed her cancer immediately and performed numerous surgeries to remove the tumor and repair her vocal chords. Han repeated his earlier contention that Weinberger should have diagnosed Barnes’ cancer and that the surgery he performed was unnecessary and caused her harm, irreversibly destroying bone and tissue.

Because Indiana law allows a maximum of $1.25 million per incident of malpractice, Weinberger’s insurers are likely to file a motion to reduce the jury’s award.

Weinberger still faces more than 350 other suits, including one scheduled to go to trial in May.

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