Los Angeles resident Paula Kane went to the Smile Implant Center in Newport Beach for dental implants after seeing a newspaper advertisement in January 2010. When she entered the facility around 9:30 a.m., anesthesiologist Dr. Barry Friedberg administered her drugs while she stayed awake—Kane's anesthesia of choice for the procedure known as "oral conscious sedation." Hours later, she went into respiratory arrest; her blood turned dark, according to one of the dental assistants present; a deadly combination of propofol—the same drug that killed Michael Jackson—along with benzodiazepines had shut down Kane's respiratory system. When she was taken to the hospital, doctors diagnosed her as brain dead. A few days later, her daughter, Tanisha Mitchell, took the 57-year-old off life support.
Mitchell filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the center's owner, Dr. Thomas Teich, and Friedberg; Orange County jurors found both men guilty of wrongful death two years later on May 22, 2012. Teich did not have a permit to administer oral conscious sedation, while Friedberg had been unregistered with the Dental Board of California for administering general anesthesia to dental patients.
"I would think you don't expect to go in for dental implants and be overdosed on propofol and die especially when that patient has gone in thinking [he or she] will get drugs like valium," said Mitchell's attorney Jeffrey Wolf of Heimanson and Wolf, LLP in Los Angeles.
The verdict outlined $635,000 for pain and suffering damages, but was then reduced to $250,000 per California's cap on non-economic damages. Both men will equally split the cost.
Teich, who still practices in Newport Beach, is not unfamiliar to malpractice lawsuits. He has been charged with medical malpractice twice before in California, and is currently involved in 13 other malpractice cases.
Teich moved to California from Arizona several years after the Arizona Board of Dental Examiners revoked his license in August, 1994 due to insurance fraud, repeated acts of gross negligence and unprofessional conduct among other charges. He spent eight months in federal prison for committing the felony of mail fraud, according to a stipulation agreement.
Six years later, he got his license back on a probationary basis in 1999, during which he applied and obtained a California dental license in 2002. Even after the move, the malpractice suits piled up against Teich, to the point that Richard DeCuir, executive officer of the state's dental board, filed a complaint requesting the board revoke Teich's license, citing record of failing to upkeep medical records, personal injury against patients, unprofessional conduct and gross negligence again.
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DeCuir filed the complaint in April, 2011; four months later, Teich paid $72,400 in an arbitration award to a former patient for injury including nerve damage in another lawsuit. DeCuir's accusations are currently still pending a decision according to Russ Heimerich, spokesperson for the Department of Consumer Affairs.
The Medical Board of California has not subjected Friedberg to any disciplinary actions. Friedberg, who describes himself as "your friendly, neighborhood anesthesiologist" on his website, continues to practice anesthesiology, and run a private, nonprofit foundation called Goldilocks Anesthesia. He authored Getting Over, Going Under: 5 Things You Must Know Before Anesthesia, and spoke about anesthesia to various outlets during the Michael Jackson trial.
As of press time, attorneys for Teich or Friedberg did not return calls or emails for comments.