- Yasser Awaad charged with misdiagnosing hundreds of Detroit-area children with epilepsy to increase his pay
- Several hundred people have accused Awaad of misdiagnosing them and plan to go to trial, attorney says
- Beaumont Health plans to appeal verdict
A jury in Detroit awarded more than $3 million to a woman who was misdiagnosed with epilepsy, one of hundreds of people to accuse a doctor of misreading tests to enrich himself and his employer.
Yasser Awaad, M.D., formerly an employee of Dearborn-based Oakwood Healthcare, was accused of running an “EEG mill,” a reference to a test that measures brain waves. He diagnosed epilepsy in Mariah Martinez when she was 9 years old. But another doctor four years later in 2007 said her tests were normal.
After a three-week trial, jurors said Monday that Awaad breached the standard of care. Oakwood was found negligent in hiring and supervising him.
Much of the verdict — $2.8 million — was for noneconomic damages, such as suffering, distress and humiliation. The award, however, will likely be reduced because it exceeds a cap of $465,900 under Michigan law. Martinez’ lawyers had sought more than $8 million.
“I’m definitely satisfied. There’s a big weight off my shoulders,” Martinez, now 26, told the Associated Press. “It’s something that has haunted me.”
Oakwood became part of Beaumont Health six years after the lawsuit was filed in 2008. Beaumont spokesman Mark Geary said an appeal is planned.
“We believe patients were treated appropriately and disagree with allegations of improper oversight of Dr. Awaad by Oakwood Healthcare,” Geary said in a statement.
In a statement to Crain’s, Brian McKeen, managing partner of McKeen & Associates, which represented Martinez, said the jury unanimously voted that Awaad and Oakwood were negligent.
“Beaumont’s statement that Mariah Martinez was treated ‘appropriately’ is a slap in the face to the nine jurors who heard the facts of the case and voted unanimously that Dr. Yasser Awaad and Oakwood Healthcare were negligent. The defense experts agreed that Awaad systematically misread EEGs. There was no expert testimony that Mariah ever had epilepsy.
McKeen said Martinez is one of “hundreds of children that Awaad labeled as epileptic based upon his misreading of normal EEGs as abnormal. Oakwood executives admitted under cross examination that they were negligent in failing to investigate allegation brought by another physician in Awaad’s office that he was misdiagnosing children with epilepsy.
Awaad has been compared by the attorneys of the children and their families to Farid Fata, M.D., the Crittenton Hospital-based oncologist who has been jailed and fined for health care fraud in misdiagnosing cancer patients.
Attorneys for Awaad and Oakwood have denied all allegations against the Egyptian-born doctor and have promised a vigorous defense against the lawsuits.
Who is Awaad?
Yasser Awaad was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1954. He graduated in 1978 from medical school at Al-Azhar University. He moved to the U.S., took required preresidency licensing tests, received his Michigan medical license in 1994, completed a one-year residency atDMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan and began private practice that included having medical staff privileges at Detroit Medical Center, Crain’s reported in 2017.
In 2005, Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn hired Awaad, giving him a $250,000 base salary that swelled to more than $600,000 as he hit patient volume incentive targets, according to Awaad’s depositions and McKeen.
Awaad’s contract rewarded him with 50 percent of medical billings once he got above a certain threshold, according to his deposition.
The patients and money were rolling in until March 2007, when patients received a letter from Awaad saying he would no longer be practicing at Oakwood.
Awaad said in a deposition that he then left Oakwood for a job in Saudi Arabia after the hospital system wanted to move him into a private practice model and he could not come to contract terms. It’s unclear exactly why Awaad left Oakwood, although he gave several answers in his depositions.
In 2014, Beaumont Health System merged with Oakwood and Botsford Hospital to form eight-hospital Beaumont Health, based in Southfield.
Oakwood was accused in the trial of ignoring complaints about the doctor, especially from another physician, Susan Youngs, who was uncomfortable with Awaad’s repeated use of EEG tests and regular diagnoses of epilepsy in children.
“How does a hospital in good conscience let that go on?” McKeen said in his closing argument last week, calling it a “gravy train of fraud.”
Defense attorney Harry Sherbrook told jurors that Awaad’s diagnosis involved more than EEG tests that were misinterpreted. He said it was “outrageous and preposterous” to claim Awaad and Oakwood intentionally harmed Martinez.
“Her symptoms were consistent with epilepsy,” Sherbrook said, noting that Martinez was daydreaming and zoning out.
She was placed on anti-seizure medicine for four years. Martinez recalled being withdrawn as a child and teased by other kids because the epilepsy label limited her physical activities at school.
“Awaad clearly was looking for excuses to order EEGs that his business plan required him to do,” McKeen told the AP.
Martinez’s case was the first to go to trial. The trial was in Circuit Court for the County of Wayne before Judge Robert Colombo Jr.
McKeen and his legal team represent more than 250 former patients.