JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM has learned an appeals court ruled seven St. Vincent’s employees must produce more than 2,700 text messages and images on their personal phones referencing a former orthopedic surgeon at the center of hundreds of malpractice lawsuits.
Dr. David Heekin is accused of botching surgeries while he was allegedly impaired by a progressive neurological condition that caused him to slur his speech and lose his balance. The lawsuits claim this resulted in devastating injuries.
The employees argue releasing the text messages and images would violate their right to privacy. According to a court filing, they are represented by a new attorney who plans to ask the appeals court to rehear their petition requesting that the text messages be protected from disclosure.
The text messages and images in question are from 2014 to 2021. Attorneys representing more than 400 patients of Dr. Heekin’s are asking for those communications as part of discovery.
“Those records, according to the plaintiffs…they think will demonstrate that employees of the hospital were aware that Dr. Heekin was impaired,” said attorney Curtis Fallgatter, who is not involved in the case.
The employees include an orthopedic clinical coordinator, an OR manager, a surgical service manager, and nurses and a surgical tech who worked with Dr. Heekin. Those employees aren’t the ones being sued, but court records show St. Vincent’s has paid the costs associated with searching their devices for electronically stored information in response to the plaintiffs’ discovery requests and their efforts to protect that information from disclosure in discovery.
“They would simply be witnesses to help establish, if they can, the liability of the hospital,” Fallgatter said.
Among the plaintiffs is Anthony Bonk. He says he lost his wife of 42 years, Cindy Bonk, after a hip replacement with Dr. Heekin in 2018 went wrong. He was emotional when the I-TEAM told him the appeals court ruled the text messages should be released.
“My heart’s about to jump out here,” Bonk said. “This is the first I’ve heard 2,700… heard of any text messages…I’ve heard of cases where people go in, and demand that they not have to do surgeries with this physician,” he said.
One of the nurses’ whose texts are at issue said in a deposition she was in the OR for Bonk’s surgery. She and at least one other member of Dr. Heekin’s team testified they asked not to be involved in surgeries with Dr. Heekin anymore.
So far, one text exchange allegedly between some of the employees whose text messages are being litigated has been disclosed by the plaintiffs in public legal filings. It says, we “are going to both report him to the state I think. He is out of his mind today. He’s so confused... “not making any sense,” and “can’t form a full sentence.”
“Now 2,700 more? Who knows how many more there are…others that haven’t come forward,” Bonk said. “If that’s what they admitted to or somebody knows of 2,700…that’s sad.”
The I-TEAM reached out to the appellate attorney representing petitioners and a spokesperson for St. Vincent’s, but we have not yet heard back.
In court filings, plaintiffs are requesting more text messages referencing Dr. Heekin from 20 other other St. Vincent’s employees, including the Chief Medical Officer and the CEO.