Protopappas Sued by Family of Victim : Trial Opens in Lawsuit Against Imprisoned, Bankrupt Dentist
Dentist Tony Protopappas, convicted two years ago of gross negligence and second-degree murder in the death of a young patient, on Wednesday faced another Orange County jury in a lawsuit filed by her parents.
The civil case in Superior Court promises to be largely a rerun of the criminal trial, in which the jury found that Protopappas had caused the death of Kim Andreasson, 23, in 1982 when he performed a root canal procedure.
Per and Ulla Isaksen, the parents, are suing for damages, but Protopappas is bankrupt and in prison, and at least 16 other alleged victims and survivors are claiming part of the dentist’s $500,000 insurance coverage.
Lawyers for both sides agreed Wednesday that at the time of her dental surgery, Andreasson was suffering from lupus erythematosus, chronic kidney failure, a seizure disorder, anemia and high blood pressure.
They also agreed that the central question in the trial is whether Protopappas properly administered anesthetics during the 2 1/2-hour procedure.
But their accounts differ on almost every other particular, including where Andreasson actually died.
“The anesthetic drugs are complicated in themselves,” said Neil Bahan, lawyer for the Isaksens. “They are very complicated when given to someone in Kim’s condition. They are unbelievably complicated when mixed together,” Bahan told jurors.
Through Protopappas’ negligence, Bahan alleged, his clients “lost a dear loved one who was the anchor of their life.”
Defense attorney Hollis O. Dyer countered that Andreasson was a difficult patient in delicate health whom Protopappas treated with proper care.
“The autopsy failed to reveal any evidence whatsoever of excess drugs in her system related to her dental treatment,” Dyer told jurors.
Dyer said a physician will state that tests conducted on Andreasson immediately after she was brought to a hospital emergency room from Protopappas’ office show that her blood contained a level of potassium “incompatible with life itself.”
“Kidney patients have a tendency to run a high potassium level,” Dyer told jurors. Andreasson had a history of high levels of potassium in the blood, and had been hospitalized previously for life-threatening “crises” associated with the condition, Dyer added.
The lawyers also disagreed on why Andreasson was not hospitalized for the surgery. Bahan said she had insisted on general anesthesia, but her personal physician recommended against it.
“Protopappas said to her: ‘I think I can get around the problems of general anesthetics. I can do it here in my office,’ ” Bahan said.
Dyer said that Andreasson “elected not to choose a hospital.” She “didn’t care what they did as long as she was put to sleep.”
Bahan also argued that Protopappas injected Andreasson with a massive overdose of drugs before surgery and, when he realized she was in trouble, tried to revive her with more drugs.
Dyer said the dosages were administered properly over the course of the operation.
Frank Barbaro, a lawyer representing other patients with claims against Protopappas, called the Isaksen lawsuit a “lay down,” an easy victory for Bahan, given the earlier criminal conviction.
But if the Isaksens win their suit, they will face difficulties in collecting damages. Protopappas’ insurer, Glacier General Assurance Co., is in receivership. Glacier has contended that Protopappas failed to pay required deductibles for his coverage, and that therefore the firm owes nothing.
Protopappas was also convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of two other patients in the 1984 criminal trial. He is an inmate at the state’s medium-security prison at Soledad.
The civil trial that opened in the courtroom of Judge John L. Flynn Jr. is expected to last several weeks.