Spinal surgery patients file lawsuits alleging counterfeit hardware was implanted in their spines
More than two dozen lawsuits were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday against a former hospital executive and a collection of his business partners that allege the group was behind counterfeit screws and hardware used in spinal surgeries at various Southern California hospitals.
The lawsuits claim that unknowing patients underwent spinal surgeries with doctors who benefited financially for using certain hardware — allegedly made at an auto shop in Temecula — and for performing surgery at certain hospitals.
The former hospital executive, Michael Drobot, was indicted in February for his role in bribing a state senator to protect the $500 million insurance fraud scheme he was using to bilk the state’s workers compensation fund. Drobot agreed to a plea deal and is cooperating with federal law enforcement.
Also named in the lawsuit are Pacific Hospital of Long Beach, Riverside Community Hospital, Spinal Solutions, Orthopedic Alliance, Crowder Machine & Tool Shop and doctors Jack Akmakjian, Sunny Uppal and Khalid Ahmed.
Attorneys told KPCC they have received hundreds of calls from people concerned they may have the fake parts, adding that they are going through each case to figure out if those former patients may have been impacted by the scheme.
Drobot’s operation included bribes for doctors and others who referred patients to Drobot’s hospital, used hardware distributed by his partners, and inflated prices for medical hardware.
The lawsuits say the victims are “among thousands of spinal fusion surgery patients in Southern California and elsewhere who [have] such counterfeit, non-FDA approved medical devices implanted into their bodies as a consequence of the systematic pattern of fraud and deceit.”
According to the lawsuits, Spinal Solutions, a distributor out of Murrieta, was behind the manufacture of the fake screws provided to hospitals and doctors who were also part of the scheme.
Drobot’s attorney, Terree Bowers, said the lawsuits are “scare tactics” and that they are “reprehensible.” He further denies any counterfeit parts were used at Drobot’s hospital.
"There is absolutely no indication or evidence that Spinal Solutions ... screws were ever used at Pacific Hospital,” he said. “It is false and patients who went to that facility do not have to be alarmed.”
Bowers said the federal indictment does not include any accusations regarding fake screws, and he said his own investigation into hospital records do not indicate counterfeit screws were used there.
"They are creating fear in patients that have absolutely no reason to afraid,” he said.
Attorneys for Ackmakjian, Uppal and Ahmed did not return calls.
One of the lawsuits outlines the accusations by a patient named Derika Moses. The complaint says Moses underwent lumbar fusion surgery in 2008. Screws, rods, screw caps and connectors were used during her surgery. There were complications, and the hardware was removed last year.
That lawsuit alleges the lot numbers on the devices removed from Moses’ body did not match those on the delivery slips from her surgery. It alleges that what was used and later removed from her back were counterfeit, non-FDA approved “knock-off” implantable spinal fixation devices.
Last summer, the State Insurance Commission Fund filed a lawsuit against Drobot and his son under the state’s racketeering laws. It alleges the Drobots created shell companies that supposedly made spinal hardware and billed for it at much higher rates than what it costs.