Sometimes a story is so horrifying that the details are hard to believe – like the story of Christopher Duntsch. The former Texas neurosurgeon is currently serving life in prison, and a new podcast titled “Dr. DEATH” (released by Wondery) tells not only the story of Duntsch’s thirty-three victims, but also investigates the medical system failure to stop the deadly rampage from continuing. The story also highlights the very important (and controversial) issue of tort reform, which limits the amount injured parties can seek as financial compensation when filing medical malpractice claims.
Texas, where Duntsch practiced, is known as a “tort reform” state. Tort reform means there is a financial cap limiting the amount of damages that medical malpractice victims can collect. For example, Texas law states that claimants may only recover up to $250,000 against defendants who are healthcare providers. Financial caps make it hard for injured victims and grieving family members to recover compensatory damages – and Duntsch’s victims said it also made it harder for them to find legal representation. It is important to note that some states have tort reform and others do not – and that cut off amounts and other details often vary.
With tort reform, injury victims do not get the justice they deserve. And, our civil justice system cannot fully hold medical providers and other bad actors accountable for their negligence.
As you read the horrifying stories below, remember that Texas is a state with tort reform. Now, imagine these victims and the lifelong difficulties they will face without fair and just compensation. Who will pay medical bills? Who will pay for their mortgage and other bills? How will they care for their families? Tort reform hurts these victims a second time.
Christopher Duntsch was born in 1971, and later went on to study medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Not long after he became a neurosurgeon (a surgeon who specializes in the nervous system, particularly the spinal cord and brain), Duntsch began maiming – and by means of gross negligence coupled with malice, killing – his patients. In fact, one of the first patients Duntsch ever seriously injured was his own best friend Jerry Summers; Summers was left paralyzed after Duntsch performed his spinal surgery.
The Dr. DEATH podcast, which contains six episodes (and some interview extras), examines several aspects of Christopher Duntsch’s life – including his crimes, and how the system failed to protect his thirty-three surgical victims. Produced by Wondery, one of the fastest growing podcast companies in the world, Dr. DEATH is also easy to listen to for free.
Episode 1: Three Days in Dallas
This introductory episode begins to delve into Duntsch’s story, investigating what happens when a doctor (Duntsch) goes against the proclamation of doing no harm to his patients. This episode also introduces listeners to Dr. Robert Henderson, one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons. One day, Dr. Henderson got a call from a local Texas hospital asking him to come see a patient who had been fine before her procedure but who could not even move her toes afterwards. Little did Dr. Henderson know that the woman he would be seeing was just one of many of Dr. Duntsch’s surgical victims.
Episode 2: Chris and Jerry
Episode 2 takes a closer look at Christopher’s childhood, adolescence and early adult years. It also examines the relationship between Duntsch and Jerry Summers, one of his best friends. Summers had broken his neck in a car accident so Duntsch offered to do a reparative procedure for him. The surgery was in 2012 and when Summers woke up, he could not move his arms or legs. According to the anesthesiologist for the procedure, Summers had lost much more blood than usual – as much as 10 times the “normal” amount. To this day Summers is a quadriplegic, which means he cannot walk or move his arms and can only move his neck slightly.
Episode 3: Occam’s Razor
In this episode listeners are introduced to Kimberly Morgan, one of Duntsch’s employees (the two also had a romantic relationship). Years before being arrested, tried, and convicted for his crimes. Christopher sent Kimberly an email saying he was prepared to become a “cold-blooded killer”. “Occam’s Razor” also investigates claims about Duntsch’s drug use and performing surgical procedures while under the influence. This episode also notes how numerous employees – like surgical techs and nurses – observed Duntsch’s odd and concerning behavior, but failed to report it or to be taken seriously if they did.
Episode 4: Spineless
Did you know that hospitals are supposed to file a report with the authorities when a surgeon or doctor is fired? “Spineless” takes a hard look at how the system failed to protect Duntsch’s victims when it had a chance. When Christopher Duntsch was fired, no one reported it – the proper authorities did not know, his previous patients did not know, and neither did any of his future victims. Because no reports were filed, Duntsch kept getting jobs and maintained his surgical privileges – and continuing to maim and kill his patients.
Episode 5: Free Fall
Episode 5 tells how Dr. Henderson, the doctor who was called in to visit one of Duntsch’s injured patients, kept trying to alert various hospital authorities to how dangerous the surgeon was. Red flags had gone off for Dr. Henderson after seeing Duntsch’s injured patient, and he had continued to keep his ear to the ground for any new details emerging about the doctor. Dr. Henderson was not the only suspicious one – a Dr. Kirby was also concerned and wanted to stop Duntsch. Dr. Kirby wrote a letter to the Texas Medical Board reporting Duntsch, and Dr. Henderson spoke to the police…but still no one did anything.
Episode 6: Closure
“Closure” takes a look at the case Michelle Shughart litigated against Dr. Duntsch. Duntsch was the first doctor to be criminally prosecuted while practicing as a surgeon – ever. Some of the jurors even learned shocking information about their own medical providers during the trial: one said that he found out his doctor routinely recommended Dr. Duntsch as a safe and reputable neurosurgeon to his patients. Shughart, the prosecutor, says that the failures made by both the legal and medical systems to protect patients are still very present today, and that changes must be made.
Remember: if you would like to learn more about the Dr. DEATH, you can lsiten to podcast. If you have questions about being injured by a medical provider, please contact a representative at our firm directly.
If you were a victim of medical negligence, we are happy to answer your questions and have one of our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers review your case for free. At Galfand Berger, our offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.