Consumer Watchdog Campaign: Prop 46 Alert: DUI Doc Implicated in Seau Death Undeterred By Medical Board and Legal System

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SANTA MONICA, CA – A new investigative report by KGTV, the ABC affiliate in San Diego, reported on the California Medical Board’s failure to police negligent doctors, like former Chargers team physician Dr. David Chao. KGTV previously reported that Dr. Chao, a known substance-abuser, could be responsible for the May 2012 suicide of former linebacker Junior Seau.

“The nexus between physician substance abuse, reckless prescribing, and medical negligence, abetted by the lack of statewide drug and alcohol testing, is crystallized in the case of David Chao, who has kept his license only through the revolving door of treatment facilities, weak doctor discipline, and failure of legal deterrence in California,” said Carmen Balber, spokeswoman for Consumer Watchdog Campaign. “California’s patients need to be protected from substance-abusing and negligent doctors like Dr. Chao. That’s why we need the strong patient safety reforms of Proposition 46, which include mandatory random drug and alcohol testing for doctors.”

The California Medical Board is responsible for investigating complaints of potential criminality and negligence by California’s physicians. Last night, KGTV provided an in-depth look at the California Medical Board’s enforcement and investigative procedures. The report examined the case of Tom Fagan, whose right knee became infected and was amputated after surgery by Dr. Chao. Dr. Chao had already left the hospital when Fagan began having complications from surgery, and had not assigned another doctor to care for Fagan while he was gone. Even though court records show that Dr. Chao claimed under oath that he was “driving to Los Angeles” to care for his sick mother at the time, a receipt showed that Dr. Chao was in San Diego, buying a bottle of vodka at a nightclub.

See and read the investigative report here:

Dr. Chao has a long record of alcohol abuse, including two DUIs, at least twenty malpractice lawsuits from Chargers players and members of the public, an investigation by the DEA into prescriptions Dr. Chao allegedly wrote to himself, and accusations that he enabled his former partner’s prescription drug addiction.

The Medical Board reviewed Tom Fagan’s complaint against Dr. Chao. Even though Fagan’s attorney told a Board investigator that she had two surgeons “outraged by Chao’s conduct” who were willing to testify that Dr. Chao’s treatment of Fagan “fell far below…the standard of care.” The Medical Board dismissed Fagan’s complaint, saying that it couldn’t find anyone to say that Dr. Chao’s actions fell below the standard of care.

KGTV reported that the California Medical Association, the lobbying organization that includes approximately 39,000 of California’s doctors as its members, spent $2.2 million in lobbying efforts just last year. The CMA has also contributed over $5 million to oppose Proposition 46, the Troy and Alana Pack Patient Safety Act, on the November ballot, which would require random drug and alcohol testing of doctors and increase physician accountability by indexing an arbitrary medical negligence cap on damages for 39 years of inflation.

The Medical Board recently placed Dr. Chao on probation after it found that Chao had been grossly negligent in the cases of six patients and had lied when he wrote on a hospital job application that he had never been convicted of a crime. However, probation still allows Dr. Chao to see patients and practice medicine.

When KGTV’s initial May 21, 2014 report of Dr. Chao’s potential negligence in the death of Junior Seau was released, Consumer Watchdog filed a complaint with the Medical Board. The complaint demanded that Dr. Chao’s medical license to be revoked. On June 2nd, Consumer Watchdog received a reply, stating that an Enforcement Analyst will be assigned to review the complaint. Six weeks later, although Dr. Chao continues to practice on patients, there has been no further response from the Medical Board.

According to a previous review of records Consumer Watchdog had obtained from the Medical Board through the Public Records Act, since 2003 the Medical Board disciplined just 149 doctors for substance abuse, 27 for using drugs or alcohol at work and 104 for DUIs. The Medical Board has stated that 1-2% of its doctors suffer from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction at any particular point in time. California has approximately 128,000 active physicians, so if up to 2,560 doctors are abusing drugs or alcohol at any given time, the vast majority of them are successfully escaping detection and consequences.

Learn more about Proposition 46 at:

Paid for by Consumer Watchdog Campaign – Yes on 45 and 46, a coalition of consumer advocates, attorneys and nurses.  777 S. Figueroa St., Ste. 4050, Los Angeles, CA  90017. Major funding by Consumer Watchdog and Greene, Broillet & Wheeler, LLP.

Carmen Balber
Carmen Balber
Consumer Watchdog executive director Carmen Balber has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She spent four years directing the group’s Washington, D.C. office where she advocated for key health insurance market reforms that were ultimately enacted into law as part of the Affordable Care Act.

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