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A doctor who allegedly left California and Florida because of licensing problems obtained a license to practice medicine in Montana. Only months later a patient may have died because the doctor failed to order certain tests. The family of the deceased is seeking the right to sue Montana’s licensing board. Based on the facts outlined in this news report, I think a jury should be permitted to hear this case.

Family wants to sue medical licensing board

HELENA – The family of a Chester man who died after receiving care from a doctor plagued by complaints in other states says Montana was negligent in giving the doctor a medical license, according to a case argued Wednesday before the Montana Supreme Court.

An attorney for Jack Nelson’s family argued the state failed to adequately look into the doctor’s troubled past.

Dr. Thomas Stephenson, who practiced in Chester, should have faced a “contested case hearing” held by an objective hearing officer before he was granted a medical license in Montana, said Great Falls attorney Norman Newhall.

A lawyer for the Montana Board of Medical Examiners said the board did what it was required to do under law, and has immunity from claims of negligence since it performs a legally recognized quasi-judicial function. Those who have such immunity, such as prosecutors, cannot be sued for discretionary decisions they make, said Helena attorney Elizabeth Baker.

The high court said it will rule later on whether the board can be held accountable for issuing the license.

A lower court has already sided with the state’s argument, a decision Nelson’s family appealed to the Supreme Court.

The family argues that Stephenson, just months after getting his full medical license in 1999, did not order an obviously needed diagnostic test days before Nelson died of a ruptured aneurysm. The test would have shown he clearly needed surgery, they argued.

Instead, Nelson’s family said that the doctor was not properly trained and he dismissed Nelson with a vague instruction to come back in a week for an X-ray.

He was out of touch with standard techniques because he had graduated from medical school in the 1960s and had spent many years since in another field _ plastic surgery, a brief filed with the court said.

He came to Montana in 1995 to practice medicine after running into problems with his license to practice in California and Florida over numerous malpractice complaints and other issues, the brief said.

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