Panos cleared in first of many cases




A jury has found Spyros Panos did not depart from the standard of care in the first of more than 250 civil lawsuits against the former surgeon.


The jury in state Supreme Court in White Plains rendered a verdict just before noon today, said Jeffrey Schietzelt, attorney for plaintiff Sylvia Puiatti. By a 5 -1 vote the jury found Panos “didn’t depart from the standard of care,” he said.


Puiatti, a Pleasant Valley widow sued Panos, both as an individual and as executor of the estate of her husband, Bernard Puiatti, who died at age 78 on Jan. 19, 2008.


Panos attended court Wednesday. Seated nearby, family members of Puiatti — among them Sylvia, his widow — listened as attorneys for both sides gave their closing arguments, which lasted about two hours.


When Bernard Puiatti saw Panos in December of 2007, he had a knee infection, but the infection was not properly treated and that malpractice led to Puiatti’s death the next month, said Schietzelt of Silverson, Pareres & Lombardi in New York City.


The jury, which began deliberations Wednesday, requested a rereading of some of Panos’ testimony late in the afternoon.


After he admitted running a multimillion-dollar scheme that defrauded multiple health insurance providers, Panos was sentenced March 7 in federal court to 4½ years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay the government $5 million and restitution of up to $5 million.


The cases of Panos’ co-defendants in this civil lawsuit — his former employer, Mid Hudson Medical Group of Fishkill, Dr. Julie Sim, and Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie — were dismissed Tuesday by state Supreme Court Justice Lewis Lubell.


Schietzelt had argued the former surgeon departed from the standard of care when he failed to send fluid withdrawn from Bernard Puiatti’s knee to a laboratory to test it for infection.


Schietzelt had sought $1 million for his client in various damages, including pain and suffering for Puiatti before he died.


Panos followed proper procedure and Bernard Puiatti died of pneumonia, said the former surgeon’s attorney, J. Peter Collins of Feldman, Kleidman and Coffey in Fishkill.

Attorneys raised multiple issues with each other’s cases during their closing arguments, including the qualifications of expert witnesses and how Bernard Puiatti’s known previous health problems either contributed to or detracted from the medical malpractice claim.


Expert witnesses called by the defense testified that, after reviewing records, they believe Bernard Puiatti developed a staph infection after he had been seen by Panos, not before, and that he died because of respiratory distress caused by pneumonia and a pulmonary hemorrhage, not the staph.


“There were co-morbid conditions … a history of lung cancer,” Collins said. “The autopsy didn’t show staph in his lungs — it showed pneumonia. He (Puiatti) had lost 65 percent of his breathing capacity.”


But Panos threw out fluid samples drawn from Bernard Puiatti’s knee instead of sending them to a lab to be cultured and tested for infection, after Puiatti visited complaining of knee pain, Schietzelt had argued.


“It only would have taken a few seconds to be sure, … he (Panos) drops it in the garbage instead of sending it out,” Schietzelt told jurors Wednesday. “That’s what you’re going back in that room to talk about.”


One of the defense’s experts, Dr. Bruce Farber, an infectious disease specialist based in Manhasset, “tosses him (Panos) under the bus” with his own testimony, Schietzelt said.


Panos testified he considered that Puiatti had an infection when he saw him in December 2007, but ruled it out after evaluating the fluid he drained from his knee, conducting a physical examination and observing how he was walking.


“Farber said anytime you remotely suspect infection … that fluid has to be sent out,” and that’s with a regular patient, let alone someone like Puiatti, who had pre-existing conditions, Schietzelt said. “Why? Cause it can kill you!”

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