TAMPA, Fla. – In what may prove to be the surgery industry’s most notorious medical trials of the 21st century, another lawsuit has been filed against now-defunct Laser Spine Institute, as well as its holding company, its managed care service corporation, wealthy developer, Edward John DeBartolo, Jr. who was a holding company board manager, and “LSI” co-founders, Dr. Michael Perry and Jonathan Lewis. It was filed by Pinellas County couple Crystal and Leonard Tinelli.
In their 57-page lawsuit hurling 34 counts against the defendants, it makes no bones about its intent to pierce through multiple layers of LLC companies to get into the pockets of LSI’s holding company, “Holdco,” that it believes intentionally defrauded patients and deceived physicians and surgeons for financial gain. It states its belief that “The Board of Managers of Holdco operated labyrinthine layers of LLCs to shield themselves from the ultimate liability of LSI…,” while illegally distributing $110 million dollars to certain equity holders and members on its Board of Managers and to LSI’s partners from a $115 Million Texas Capital Bank loan. What LSI needed more than anything was to keep their physicians and surgeons insured, which it apparently did not, which resulted in defrauding patients such as Crystal Tinelli who would suffer from a botched surgery and seek damages. When Laser Spine Institute was processing its closure in March 2019, the Court remarked they had “not identified that any letter of credit or escrow accounts were ever established in connection with any self-insurance programs,” although at minimum, Mrs. Tinelli’s doctor claimed such a policy was in effect.
Dr. Reginald Davis, a neurological surgeon, was not insured when he performed allegedly incompetent surgeries on Mrs. Tinelli during 2016 and 2018. He placed two interbody cages, each known under the brand name “Varilift-LX” into Mrs. Tinelli’s back without using a fixation device to stabilize the back and spine. A facet joint was also removed. Ultimately, bone grafts extruded from the cages and migrated into her spinal canal. In 2018 and 2019, she underwent two separate corrective surgeries, including the installation of fixation hardware. Mrs. Tinelli suffers from various ailments that include permanent loss of bodily functions, permanent injury, and scarring, which complicates both past and future surgeries. Her husband complains he has been deprived of her companionship.
Apparently unaware that he was not insured through a corporate policy, Dr. Davis renewed his medical license, unwittingly misrepresenting his compliance with Florida financial responsibility statutes. The lawsuit states, ‘he is nonetheless personally accountable to verify his compliance with state requirements prior to pursuing a medical license renewal.’ A count of “battery” in the lawsuit declares that Mrs. Tinelli was touched under false pretenses.
Currently, the Better Business Bureau lists 58 complaints in the last three years from patients and others who are disgruntled for any number of reasons with “LSI,” including the inability to get their medical records. Many patients apparently do not realize the institute is out of business. As for lawsuits, there are still 11 open cases in Hillsborough County. The institute’s most famous legal case was filed by Hulk Hogan, a former wrestler and reality TV celebrity who settled for $10 million after suing for “unnecessary surgeries.” He claimed the surgeries stunted the longevity of his wrestling career.
The attorney for the Plaintiffs is Donald J. Schutz, St. Petersburg. He declined to comment on the case.