weather icon Clear

Judges ban Las Vegas doctor from serving as expert witness in 2 cases

In a victory for personal injury attorneys in Las Vegas, two local judges took the unusual step of banning Dr. Derek Duke from testifying as an expert witness in two cases, finding him biased against personal injury plaintiffs.

Duke, a Las Vegas neurosurgeon, earns about $1 million a year giving second opinions in lawsuits. He testifies on behalf of insurance companies.

On March 20, after 11 days of hearings, District Judge Timothy Williams ordered that Duke could not testify in a personal injury case filed by Mitch Wilson.

In a scathing 35-page opinion, Williams found “Dr. Duke’s medical opinions are personal and his methodology unreliable. The Court further finds that Dr. Duke’s medical opinions rely heavily on speculation and other irrelevant factors.”

Williams said Duke couldn’t testify because of “a history of personal bias as to some treating physicians and extreme bias resulting in prejudice against personal injury plaintiffs.”

It’s unusual that a judge would take 11 days to make a full record about an expert witness’s qualifications.

Williams is a former personal injury attorney, but he’s not the only judge to declare that Duke’s testimony is biased. District Judge Mark Denton disqualified Duke from testifying in an unrelated personal injury case in 2015, also finding him biased.

Williams’ opinion detailed an evaluation of 371 of Duke’s reports. They showed that Duke disagreed with the treating doctor about 95 percent of the time and that 86 percent of the time he found there was no injury or a sprain when the treating doctor concluded there was an injury or more than a sprain or strain.

In Duke’s case notes, he bad-mouthed other doctors and blamed plaintiffs’ injuries on mental or psychological conditions, although he is not a psychologist.

“The Court notes that on the very first day of his testimony, Dr. Duke informed the Court of his ability to diagnose and treat depression and anxiety without the need for neuropsychological testing, and often merely by talking with him,” the opinion said.

Duke sometimes tells the plaintiffs they should use other treatment plans. He asks about litigation and comments on the weakness of the case, which is beyond the scope of his role as a supposedly independent examiner, according to Williams’ opinion.

The record showed that in one case, Duke described a doctor as “overtly unethical” and “unprofessional.”

Duke once wrote, “The reputation of Las Vegas spine surgeons nationally is quite poor” and that the treating doctor was “blatantly pandering to those seeking to inflate the economic value of litigation.”

In case you’ve forgotten, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office spent years trying to prove exactly what Duke said, but with little success. The investigation became public in 2008.

They obtained convictions or pleas from an attorney, a neurosurgeon and a medical consultant but failed to prove a massive conspiracy between lawyers and doctors trying to run up costs of injuries to drive up the costs of settlements.

Duke believed the conspiracy existed. But without proof, federal officials couldn’t prove the existence of a “Medical Mafia.”

In a third personal injury case involving Richard Greene, attorney Dennis Prince is taking the unusual step of suing Duke, alleging that he is part of a civil conspiracy with Allstate Insurance and that the spine surgeon intentionally interfered with the insurance contract because of his “extreme bias.”

The attorney for Duke and Allstate declined to comment on either the Williams’ opinion or the Greene lawsuit, which was filed in May.

Prince said he hopes that based on the two previous rulings, insurance companies will decide it’s not worth the cost to fight for Duke to testify on a case-by-case basis.

Prince said Duke is effective with jurors and has a “boyish charm.” When Prince was an insurance defense attorney, he hired Duke for about two years before deciding Duke was too aggressive.

Greene was insured by Allstate when he was the victim in a motor vehicle accident in November 2015. One doctor said Greene was a candidate for surgery, but Allstate hired Duke for an evaluation. Allstate then refused to pay for the surgery after receiving Duke’s report.

If Prince can prove Duke conspired with Allstate to discourage insurance companies from hiring him, personal injury plaintiffs could win higher settlements across Las Vegas.

But Duke will have strong motivation to defend himself. He will be fighting for his reputation as well as his income.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Cab riders experiencing no-shows urged to file complaints

If a cabbie doesn’t show, you must file a complaint. Otherwise, the authority will keep on insisting it’s just not a problem, according to columnist Jane Ann Morrison. And that’s not what she’s hearing.

Are no-shows by Las Vegas taxis usual or abnormal?

In May former Las Vegas planning commissioner Byron Goynes waited an hour for a Western Cab taxi that never came. Is this routine or an anomaly?

Columnist shares dad’s story of long-term cancer survival

Columnist Jane Ann Morrison shares her 88-year-old father’s story as a longtime cancer survivor to remind people that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean a hopeless end.

Las Vegas author pens a thriller, ‘Red Agenda’

If you’re looking for a good summer read, Jane Ann Morrison has a real page turner to recommend — “Red Agenda,” written by Cameron Poe, the pseudonym for Las Vegan Barry Cameron Lindemann.

Las Vegas woman fights to stop female genital mutilation

Selifa Boukari McGreevy wants to bring attention to the horrors of female genital mutilation by sharing her own experience. But it’s not easy to hear. And it won’t be easy to read.

Biases of federal court’s Judge Jones waste public funds

Nevada’s most overturned federal judge — Robert Clive Jones — was overturned yet again in one case and removed from another because of his bias against the U.S. government.

Don’t forget Jay Sarno’s contributions to Las Vegas

Steve Wynn isn’t the only casino developer who deserves credit for changing the face of Las Vegas. Jay Sarno, who opened Caesars Palace in 1966 and Circus Circus in 1968, more than earned his share of credit too.

John Momot’s death prompts memories of 1979 car fire

Las Vegas attorney John Momot Jr. was as fine a man as people said after he died April 12 at age 74. I liked and admired his legal abilities as a criminal defense attorney. But there was a mysterious moment in Momot’s past.