Jury selection begins in suit over patient death

March 14, 2011 9:47:22 AM PDT
Jury selection began Monday in the civil trial of the northwest Indiana plastic surgeon who fled to Europe before his arrest.

Captured international fugitive Mark Weinberger faces a civil lawsuit that accuses him of negligence in the 2004 death of Phyllis Barnes, a former Valparaiso resident. Weinberger allegedly never diagnosed her cancer. Her family is expected to be in court speaking out. Barnes family lawyers say Barnes went to Weinberger after seeing a billboard promoting his Merrillville-based business.

Attorney Kenneth Allen told the Times of Munster that Barnes went to Weinberger "for a diagnosis and got unnecessary surgery and delay" and he failed to diagnosed her cancer.

Weinberger was captured living in a tent with high-tech survival gear on an Italian mountainside in December of 2009. In the criminal case last October, Weinberger pleaded guilty to 22 counts of healthcare fraud. He faces hundreds of other malpractice suits.

"No matter what happens, I will not get my mom back. It is kind of bittersweet," said Shawn Barnes, daughter.

Barnes lost her mom, Phyllis, to cancer after she went to see Weinberger in 2001 for sinus problems. Her attorneys claim that he failed to diagnose her lung cancer and performed unnecessary surgery. He now faces about 350 similar state medical malpractice lawsuits.

"I am disappointed in him as a doctor, him as a professional. He obviously put a lot of time and effort into his image, more so than his actual practice. I think he just lost focus of what being a doctor is really about," said Shawn Barnes.

"You go to the doctor and think that they have your best interest at heart, and he did not. It has caused a lot of pain in our family," said Peggy Hood, sister.

The civil suit is asking for punitive damages of up to $50 million. The family said they want the jury to side with them because they believe a verdict in their favor will prevent Weinberger from practicing medicine again whenever he gets out of prison.

"Misconduct requires punishment. Whether or not it is paid is not for us to decide. We need to set an example. That is what this case is about. We need to punish wrongdoing," Allen said.

Weinberger is scheduled to be sentenced on his criminal charges at the end of April. There was no comment yet from his attorneys in court Monday. And Weinberger was not in court Monday. He could appear in court later this week, and the federal marshals would have to escort him.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.