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Monday, May 20, 2019
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Doctor facing malpractice suit wins key appellate court ruling

Scott Plantz, the former emergency room doctor who has fought for nearly a decade to clear his name after he was accused of medical malpractice, won a major victory Wednesday in appellate court.

A panel of three judges on the Second District Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision to toss the case against Plantz, who was sued after a patient of his died hours after she left the emergency room. The decision hinged on the qualifications of another doctor, Dr. Richard Dellerson, to judge the treatment Plantz provided to the patient. Both courts ruled Dellerson was not qualified to render an opinion.

"They always say that justice prevails," Plantz said. "And it may take a long time for the eyes of Lady Justice to see the truth, but finally after 10 years, four judges figured out the truth."

Related: A Florida doctor went to court to clear his name. He gave up so much more.

The saga started in 2007 when Vineshia Malcolm walked into the St. Anthony's Hospital emergency room, where Plantz was the attending physician, with coughing, congestion and wheezing. A CT scan revealed a mass in her neck, but Plantz said medical records showed it was a chronically enlarged thyroid, or a goiter - nothing to worry about, the doctor said. He treated Malcolm's symptoms and sent her home.

Her husband found her dead 12 hours later. An autopsy showed Malcolm, 60, died from the goiter compressing her windpipe.

Nearly two years later, Malcolm's widower, Edward John, sought to sue Plantz for malpractice. Well-known Pinellas attorney Wil Florin filed the lawsuit notice, which included Dellerson's opinion that Plantz should have investigated Malcolm's neck. In Florida, lawyers who sue doctors for malpractice must find a doctor willing to substantiate the claim.

Those doctors must meet certain qualifications. Plantz argued Dellerson, who had not worked as an emergency room doctor since 2001, did not meet the standard to judge Plantz's treatment.

Florin pushed back, arguing Dellerson's work as a hospital administrator and his long career in the emergency room made him more than qualified to opine in Plantz's case.

The court file ballooned over the years to more than 15,000 pages and spanned three judges, draining Plantz of his savings and robbing him of family time. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Patricia Muscarella ruled in 2017 that Dellerson was not qualified, and dismissed the case against Plantz with prejudice, meaning Florin and John couldn't file it again even with a different expert.

Florin appealed, and the three-judge panel heard arguments last month. The ruling Wednesday was unanimous.

Florin could appeal the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

"We are surprised and obviously disappointed with the decision," Florin said in an email. "In consultation with our appellate co-counsel, we are currently evaluating each of our additional appellate options."

Plantz said he has been in touch with a "nationally recognized" law firm that has agreed to represent him and file suit against Florin, claiming malicious prosecution. Plantz would not name the firm.

"I don't want to sue him. I don't want to go through another three or four more years of this. I just want my attorneys' fees and to be done with it," Plantz said. "And I'd go away."

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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