Lawsuit Hits Nerve for Former Friends Fighting Over Medical Fees Earned

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Sep. 1, 2014 12:00 am  

It’s hard to imagine now, but at one time Dr. Eren Erdem and Dr. Scott Schlesinger were close friends.

So close that, back in 2003, Erdem bought his $740,000, 5,000-SF house in Little Rock’s Chenal Valley neighborhood specifically because it was two doors down from the 4,300-SF house that Schlesinger built in 1996. They vacationed together and spent 10 days in Turkey visiting Erdem’s home country and meeting his family.

Now the two are facing off in a bitter lawsuit in which Erdem accuses Schlesinger of betraying his trust, cheating him out of untold dollars and orchestrating funny business with insurance claims of a type state regulators have never seen before.

In his responses, Schlesinger has denied wrongdoing and insisted that Erdem was properly compensated for the services he performed. Both Erdem’s attorney, Tré Kitchens of Little Rock, and Schlesinger’s attorney, E. B. “Chip” Chiles IV of Little Rock, declined to comment last week about the case, which Kitchens filed in February.

Regardless of how the dispute is ultimately decided, the case serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of having a contract in place and how quickly a friendship can sour when money is involved.

Until last week, Erdem was an associate professor of radiology and neurosurgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and chief of the university’s section of interventional neuroradiology. In 2008, he agreed to help Schlesinger with spinal injections and other procedures at his Legacy Neurosurgery Center and Arkansas Neurosurgery Clinic in Little Rock, and he did so on a part-time basis for more than four years without benefit of a written contract.

During that time, Erdem now charges, Schlesinger “actively deceived” him about the compensation he was owed, shortchanging him hundreds of thousands of dollars for medical services that Erdem provided to patients at Schlesinger’s clinics.

“Friendship is a wonderful thing,” said Chicago attorney Patrick Coffey, who is a partner at Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. Coffey isn’t involved in Erdem v. Schlesinger but handles health care disputes.

“Unfortunately when and if a problem arises in connection with a business relationship, you don’t find yourself in the best position when you don’t have the writing that actually identifies who’s responsible for what.”

Coffey said disputes over physician compensation are nothing new, but they seem to be getting more media attention. And when doctors sue doctors, he said, “you have people who get carried away with the lawsuit, start making allegations about conduct and the next thing you know, you’ve got all kinds of people looking at” the case.

“A standard feature in these kinds of disputes is an allegation of some type of misconduct on the part of one or both of the participants.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening in Erdem’s case. In the lawsuit, he accused Schlesinger and his clinics of billing insurance companies for procedures that Erdem performed but using Schlesinger’s provider number.



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