Jury awards more than $3 million to woman misdiagnosed with epilepsy by Detroit-area doctor

DETROIT (AP) -- A jury on Monday awarded more than $3 million to a woman who was misdiagnosed with epilepsy, one of hundreds of people to accuse a Detroit-area doctor of misreading tests to enrich himself and his employer. 

Dr. Yasser Awaad 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 Awaad breached the standard of care. Oakwood Healthcare in Dearborn was found negligent in hiring and supervising him.

Much of the verdict -- $2.8 million -- was for non-economic 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 years after the lawsuit was filed in 2008. A spokesman said an appeal is planned.

"We believe patients were treated appropriately and disagree with allegations of improper oversight of Dr. Awaad by Oakwood Healthcare," Mark Geary said.

Awaad was Oakwood's first pediatric neurologist when he was hired in 1999. Over nearly a decade, his annual salary rose from $185,000 to $300,000. He also qualified for bonuses exceeding $200,000 if certain billing targets were met, documents show.

Oakwood was accused of ignoring complaints about the doctor especially from another physician, Dr. Susan Youngs, who was uncomfortable with Awaad's repeated use of EEG tests and regular diagnoses of epilepsy in children. He left Oakwood in 2007.

"How does a hospital in good conscience let that go on?" attorney Brian 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 Martinez recalled being withdrawn as a child and teased by other kids because the epilepsy label limited her physical activities at school.

Her case was the first to go to trial. McKeen and his legal team represent more than 250 former patients.

"Awaad clearly was looking for excuses to order EEGs that his business plan required him to do," McKeen told the AP.