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Pamela Jane Justus had been suffering from pain and fatigue for many years when she first visited Dr. Michael Rosner, a neurosurgeon practicing at Park Ridge Hospital in Fletcher, on June 7, 2000.
Then 46, "P.J.," as family and friends called her, heard the encouraging news from Dr. Rosner that a surgery could relieve her headaches. That surgery, which Rosner conducted 20 days later, and a subsequent procedure seven months after that, failed to fix her medical problems, she said in a malpractice suit.
Six weeks after the second surgery, she complained of severe neck and back pain, daily headaches, sensitivity to light and sound and a paralyzed vocal cord, her lawsuit says, and by the end of September 2001 she had received an opinion from Duke University neurologists that the surgeries Rosner performed "were not supported by the diagnostic studies he conducted" before performing the operations.
Justus and her husband, Billy Bruce Justus Jr., filed a malpractice lawsuit on June 11, 2003. Pam Justus did not live to see the case through. She died on Sept. 20, 2012, at age 58, of fatty liver disease.
Last week in Henderson County Superior Court, seven lawyers began arguments in the 11-year-old lawsuit, the first of many pending against Dr. Rosner, who has had his medical license twice suspended in North Carolina and twice restored. He is praised as either the savior of patients who can get help nowhere else or condemned as a practitioner of experimental spinal cord and brain surgeries that have questionable effectiveness.
The Justuses have sued Rosner, Park Ridge Hospital (now called Park Ridge Health) and its corporate parent, Adventist Health System, seeking compensatory and punitive damages for negligence and fraud in what the lawsuit calls a "civil conspiracy" driven by money. Attorneys for Rosner and the hospital have said in pretrial motions that they will put on evidence showing that Rosner's surgeries met standards and that the hospital has acted responsibly in its oversight of his work.
Wade Byrd, a well-known plaintiff's lawyer from Fayetteville, represents the Justuses. Last November he took on a high profile co-counsel, Mike Easley. A former two-term attorney general and North Carolina's governor from 2001 until 2009, last year won reinstatement of his law license, which the state Bar had revoked after his conviction in 2010 on campaign finance violations.
Rosner is represented by Charlotte attorneys Scott Stevenson and Lisa Hoffman. Attorneys Jacqueline D. Grant and Phillip T. Jackson of Asheville represent Park Ridge.