Patient sues doctor for $5 million

June 24, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

An Annapolis gynecologist who surrendered his medical license in 1992 amid charges that he had sex with five patients was sued yesterday for $5 million by a patient who claimed he impregnated her twice and persuaded her to have abortions both times.

The woman, a former patient, charges in the suit that Dr. Jeffrey Briggs, 40, arranged for another physician to perform the first abortion and performed the second one himself "at his office secretly in the evening after the office was officially closed." She got pregnant the second time after he removed her intra-uterine device and didn't tell her, the suit says.

Dr. Briggs is a physician at the Women's Health Center in Carthage, N.Y., and has staff privileges at Carthage Hospital despite the furor in Maryland, according to the hospital's director.

"The allegations were considered, but there was never a finding that it actually happened," said Lawrence Hasseler, a lawyer who is president of the hospital's board of directors. "It turns out he's a good doctor."

The suit, filed in Anne Arundel Circuit Court, alleges that Dr. Briggs, who was part of Annapolis OB/GYN Associates, a prominent downtown medical practice, persuaded another physician to perform the first abortion by telling him that he was married to the plaintiff. Both abortions were performed during the course of a relationship that lasted several years and ended in 1992, the suit alleges.

"Patients are vulnerable because they put their lives in these doctors' hands," said Joanne L. Suder, the plaintiff's lawyer. "It's wrong and it's malpractice for a doctor to take advantage of that trust."

Dr. Briggs was unavailable yesterday, but Mr. Hasseler said there have been no problems in the 18 months the physician has been working in Carthage.

"We're a small community, and if there were any complaints, we'd usually hear about them," said Mr. Hasseler, who also heads the committee that grants and reviews physician staff privileges.

J. Michael Compton, executive director of the Maryland Board of Physician Quality Assurance, said Dr. Briggs surrendered his Maryland license in November 1992, three weeks after the patients filed complaints with the board.

The doctor moved to New York state, where he held another license to practice.

Robin Goodenough, who teaches a course on law and medicine at the University of Baltimore Law School, said doctors frequently move to another state when their licenses are suspended or revoked.

"We just don't have national control of the evaluation and discipline of doctors," he said. "The problem is that the regulation of doctors has largely been left to the doctors, and that self-regulation has been a miserable failure."

Mr. Compton said Dr. Briggs' surrender of his Maryland license was reported to the agencies that regulate physicians in all 50 states by way of the National Practitioner's Data Bank and the Federation of State Medical Boards, both of which monitor and report on disciplinary actions against doctors.

Officials in New York said that Dr. Briggs was granted his medical license there long before the complaints were filed in Maryland and that he was retained by the medical offices where he now works before local authorities learned of his problems in Maryland.

"It could be six or eight months before we know about something in the doctor's past," said William Fagel of New York State Department of Health's Office of Professional Conduct, which handles complaints about physicians.

Rita St. John, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health, said Dr. Briggs has been licensed to practice in New York since 1980.

She said he may have kept his New York license while practicing in Maryland because many states require a physician to retain the license in the first state where he practiced.

Records show that Dr. Briggs joined Annapolis OB-GYN in June 1986 after completing a residency with the Army in Panama and Kansas. He is a graduate of the University of Monterey Medical School in Monterey, Mexico.

Mr. Fagel said he could not legally discuss whether he is considering taking action against Dr. Briggs. But he indicated that the license is under review.

"All I can say is, if you call me back in a month or so, I may have something for you," he said.

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