A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in South Carolina accuses eye clinics across the country of performing surgeries on patients with pre-existing conditions that should have excluded them as candidates, causing those patients to suffer post-operative problems.
Practitioners in 30 TLC LASIK Centers nationwide performed Lasik procedures on patients with conditions like keratoconus, a progressive thinning and curvature of the cornea, according to documents filed in federal court in Greenville. Performing the corrective surgery on someone with the disorder puts the patient at risk for problems like progressive vision loss, but ineligible candidates can easily be weeded out in pre-surgery screening, according to the lawsuit.
After his Lasik surgery, Beaufort County resident John Hollman, 36, developed ectasia, or vision loss resulting from inner eye pressure pushing out against a thinned corneal wall. This condition requires expensive treatments and, in severe cases, is only cured by a corneal transplant, Hollman’s attorneys argue.
To keep up with escalating customer demand in the early 2000s, TLC LASIK Centers skimped on pre-surgical consultations and performed the procedure on patients who should never have been considered, the lawsuit says.
TLC Vision, TLC LASIK Centers’ St. Louis-based parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December. Company spokesman Jim Hyland declined Wednesday to comment on the lawsuit and said TLC Vision expected to emerge from bankruptcy in May.
Hollman’s attorneys also say TLC knew its procedures were harming patients like their client, and say the company was keeping a database to track statutes of limitations on possible lawsuits that could result from the surgeries. The company intentionally postponed and delayed follow-up appointments to buy itself more time, the suit alleges, and Hollman’s attorneys found out about the databases during a lawsuit over his surgery in state court. That case is pending.
“All actions by the Defendants were designed to hide the patients’ true condition and to manage the patients’ expectations until that patient no longer posed a risk to the Defendants’ assets,” the attorneys wrote.
In that database, Hollman’s lawyers say they have found nearly 200 other TLC patients who have experienced problems similar to those of their client.
The attorneys for Hollman, who is a high school teacher and coach, have asked the court for class-action status so other patients can sign on. In all, Hollman is seeking up to $180 million in damages, a figure that accounts for more than $500,000 in lifelong, post-operative treatment for the 181 patients wrongly operated on by TLC LASIK, Hollman’s attorneys said Wednesday.
As of October, an estimated 6 million Americans had undergone Lasik surgery, which reshapes the cornea, a clear layer covering the eye. There are no guarantees of 20/20 vision and the long-term safety of the procedure is still unknown.
In October, the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to study the scope of problems connected with Lasik, including blurred vision and dry eyes. The project will also include a clinical trial tracking patients who undergo the procedure, which is expected to conclude by 2012.