An Arkansas woman received a $2.5 million judgment last month as a result of injuries from surgery she probably didn’t need.
Jerri Plummer’s procedure was done as a part of an alleged scheme to turn a potentially defective medical product into a moneymaker for doctors and lawyers, according to her 2018 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Little Rock.
The 54-year-old Saline County woman received the default judgment against Women’s Health & Surgery Center LLC of Winter Park, Florida, and a marketing company called Law Firm Headquarters LLC of Florida and its owners Michael Chhabra and Vincent Chhabra.
U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. ordered the defendants to pay $1 million in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.
“The judgment was definitely just,” said Plummer’s attorney, J.R. Baxter of Benton, who along with his father, Ray Baxter, represented Plummer. “She’s still having a whole lot of issues. She’s completely and totally incontinent.”
The roots of the case go back to Vincent Chhabra’s Law Firm Headquarters, which recruited clients for attorneys in personal injury cases. Surgical Assistance Inc. of Florida and its owner, Wesley Blake Barber, would plan and coordinate surgeries. Referrals resulted in kickbacks paid to Barber’s firm, Plummer’s suit said.
In the fall of 2014, Plummer received a call from a representative of Law Firm Headquarters who said that the transvaginal mesh Plummer had implanted in 2008 “was absolutely defective, and that if she did not have it removed it could potentially kill her,” according to Plummer’s lawsuit.
Plummer, who didn’t graduate from high school, believed the caller who said that she could put Plummer in touch with a Florida surgeon who would remove the mesh and an attorney who would represent her to obtain a settlement to cover the costs.
Plummer did have some “minor pain she attributed to the mesh,” according to court filings. So she decided to travel to Florida to have it removed.
What Plummer didn’t know at the time was that there was litigation involving the manufacturer of the mesh. Lawsuits in cases in which the mesh had been removed from women were worth a lot more than if the mesh remained inside the body. “And so people decided to profit on that,” said J.R. Baxter, a 2017 graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law.
Plummer paid about $21,000 to Women’s Health; the procedure would have cost between $590 and $990 had it been processed through Medicaid.
Plummer’s legal case involving the alleged defective mesh was assigned to Minnesota attorneys Rhett McSweeney and David Langevin and their firm McSweeney Langevin LLC. Plummer signed a contract that said she would pay an attorneys’ fee of 45%, plus costs “and even interest on the cost,” the lawsuit said. “This is a staggering fee.”
McSweeney Langevin and its attorneys denied the allegations in their filings.
Before Plummer had the surgery in December 2014, there was “little to no diagnostic testing,” her lawsuit said.
After the surgery, Plummer was left with “substantial medical problems,” the lawsuit said. “For example, she now has no bladder or bowel control. These issues did not exist prior to the operation to remove the mesh/tape.”
Plummer sued several defendants in federal court accusing them of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy and violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The Minnesota attorneys and their firm had their section of the lawsuit sent to arbitration, where it was settled, court records show. McSweeney didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Plummer reached a settlement with Surgical Assistance and Barber and they were dismissed from the lawsuit in 2021. Barber pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to Travel Act Conspiracy for using interstate commerce with the intent to pay and accept bribes and kickbacks in exchange for the referral of patients. He was sentenced to probation for three years. He also has to pay a total of $240,000 in restitution to victims.