JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Videos, recordings and documents obtained by First Coast News in the bellwether trial of Dr. Richard David Heekin shed new light on his physical and mental state during the time of the botched surgeries he's accused of carrying out.
Over 350 lawsuits have been filed, with at least 100 more expected by the end of the year, against Heekin's clinic and Ascension St. Vincent’s Riverside Hospital in Jacksonville.
Bellwether trials occur when many plaintiffs file lawsuits against the same party or group of parties. The attorneys involved are asking for permission to seek punitive damages against St. Vincent’s.
In over 500 pages of documents, the plaintiffs accuse Heekin of multiple instances of errors made during surgeries. Those errors reportedly resulted in bone fractures, ruptured tendons, severed nerves and other severe complications.
They claim Heekin was often noticeably impaired by those around him, occasionally slurring his words, having difficulty with balance, being unable to concentrate and having irrational outbursts of anger.
Video and audio recordings provided by the PR firm representing the trial claim to show concrete examples of such behavior.
In the provided deposition video below, Heekin appears disoriented and has trouble communicating. He takes nearly 20 seconds to answer one of the questions and also appears to have some sort of angry outburst.
At the end of the video, Heekin admits that a diagnosed medical condition played a role in his decision to retire in July 2020.
NBC reports that Heekin had progressive supranuclear palsy, which the Mayo Clinic describes as an uncommon brain disorder that causes serious problems with walking, balance and eye movements.
"The facts in this case are shocking, appalling, and egregious," claims the legal team representing the bellweather plantiffs in a factual proffer.
"By the time Dr. Heekin performed surgery on these Bellwether Plaintiffs, SVMC had known for a very long time that he posed a present substantial danger to patients at SVMC. Nevertheless, Dr. Heekin was allowed to maintain privileges and performed surgery on hundreds of patients at SVMC for the last several years in the face of event after event demonstrating that he was not competent and impaired."
In the hundreds of pages of documents, gruesome photos illustrate the catastrophic outcomes of the alleged surgeries.
First Coast News is working to comb through these. Stay tuned for additional reporting.
In court filings, St. Vincent’s denied the allegations and if any negligence occurred it was beyond their control, the sole responsibility of Dr. Heekin and his clinic.
The hospital also challenged whether the statute of limitations has expired in some cases and labeled some allegations quote ‘immaterial, scandalous and irrelevant.