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The Columbus Dispatch – Hilliard Podiatrist Facing 8 Malpractice Lawsuits

Darla Morris broke her left ankle while working as a nursing assistant in 2005. Over the next five years, she underwent four surgeries to correct the problem.

All of the surgeries failed, leading to the amputation of her leg below the knee in 2011.

Beth Mullens had surgery in 2007 for what she had thought were heel spurs. Eight failed surgeries later, she underwent a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg in 2010.

The two women are among eight patients with active medical-malpractice lawsuits against Dr. Leonard Janis, a Hilliard podiatrist, in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. Four of the patients had complications from ankle surgeries that led to amputations. Janis also is a defendant in a wrongful-death action.

Nine active lawsuits against one doctor “is virtually unheard of,” said Columbus lawyer Anne Valentine, who represents two of the plaintiffs and has handled civil cases for nearly 30 years.

Five of the lawsuits also name Grant Medical Center or its parent company, OhioHealth, where Janis performed surgery for nearly 26 years until he resigned his privileges in February. Janis also resigned his privileges at Doctors Hospital, an OhioHealth facility with which he had been affiliated since 1979.

Mark Hopkins, a spokesman for the hospitals, would not comment on why Janis resigned but said, ” OhioHealth has rigorous standards in place for credentialing of physicians at all our facilities. We are confident that we have done nothing wrong as it pertains to these lawsuits and plan to defend our process against these allegations.”

Janis, 65, continues to operate his podiatry practice, Total Foot and Ankle of Ohio, on Ridge Mill Drive. He has privileges at the Dublin Surgery Center and the Marysville Surgical Center.

Janis was advised by his attorney not to comment for this story. But Robin Yocum, a spokesman for the doctor, said Janis resigned his hospital privileges because he “was feeling pressured by orthopedic surgeons who were not happy that a podiatrist was performing highly technical surgeries such as ankle replacements. He elected to take his privileges to surgery centers where they welcomed the skills he has to offer.”

Yocum said Janis “believes he delivers quality care and has every intention of fighting (the lawsuits) in court.”

He said Janis performs about 600 surgeries a year and “takes on a lot of high-risk cases that other physicians aren’t willing to take on. Some have been to orthopedic surgeons who suggested that the best option is amputation. For a lot of these folks, he is the last hope.”

But the three plaintiffs who spoke with The Dispatch, each represented by Columbus attorney Daniel Abraham, said they don’t fit into that category.

Mullens, 51, of the West Side, said she had some left-foot pain but was able to play with her children and grandchildren at places such as Zoombezi Bay before Janis recommended her first surgery.

Now, she wears a prosthetic lower leg, uses a walker and wheelchair and “can’t do a lot of normal activities,” she said. “I never thought I’d lose my leg. It was very shocking.”

Morris, 49, of the Far East Side, said she was “devastated” when told that she would need an amputation after her failed surgeries.

“For the first six to eight months, I cried every day,” she said. “I still do. … It changes everything.”

Fred Chambers, 55, of the Far West Side, said he had no pain but made a routine visit to Janis to have his feet examined because he is diabetic. The resulting surgery left him wearing a right-ankle brace to help him walk and to prevent amputation, he said.

“I used to hunt and fish,” he said. “That’s over.”

Janis is revered by other patients. They include Holly Blinn, 25, of Clintonville, who was referred to Janis after her ankles were damaged by years of jazz, tap and ballet dancing. She said he performed four surgeries on her right ankle and two on her left between 2002 and 2009.

Blinn called the repeated surgeries “entirely my fault” because she continued to dance. She decided to stop dancing competitively but has no other restrictions and said both ankles are strong, thanks to Janis.

“I’d refer him in a heartbeat,” Blinn said. “He’s been great for me.”

Janis has been licensed to practice podiatry in Ohio since 1973 and is in good standing with the State Medical Board. The board has never taken disciplinary action against him, said Sallie Debolt, general counsel for the board.

Janis was a defendant in 12 other malpractice lawsuits in Franklin County dating to 1991, court records show. Five were settled out of court, four were dismissed by judges, and three resulted in jury verdicts in favor of Janis.

But there has been a surge in filings against him in recent years. Of the 21 lawsuits that have named him as a defendant, 11 have been filed since 2009.

The wrongful-death lawsuit differs from those linked to failed ankle surgeries. It was filed by the widow of a 39-year-old Muskingum County man who was found unresponsive in his room at Grant Medical Center on July 16, 2009, nearly eight hours after Janis operated on him to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The suit claims that the cause of death was “respiratory suppression” and that Janis and others on the medical staff oversedated and failed to properly monitor the patient, who had “undiagnosed sleep apnea.” An autopsy found the death was related to heart disease.

The mere filing of malpractice lawsuits against a physician isn’t reported to the State Medical Board. Under state law, the board must be informed if a doctor is the subject of three or more claims of medical malpractice within the previous five years, each of which resulted in a settlement or judgment of at least $25,000.

In 1996, Janis was the focus of a Dispatch story about a turf war between podiatrists and orthopedists about whether podiatrists should be permitted to operate on the ankle or be confined to the foot. The debate began in 1992 when Janis, then director of podiatry at Grant, applied to the hospital to perform ankle fusion surgery. Grant officials asked the State Medical Board whether the surgery was within a podiatrist’s scope of practice.

In January 1997, the board adopted a definition of the foot that includes the ankle joint, making ankle surgery permissible for Janis and other podiatrists who meet hospital and training requirements.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, July 9, 2012, by John Futty