The Santa Barbara doctor facing federal charges of overprescribing has been sued for medical malpractice and wrongful death four times since his arrest last year, according to Santa Barbara County Superior Court documents.
Dr. Julio Diaz of Goleta is linked to 11 patient deaths in the criminal affidavit, which details the lengthy investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Santa Barbara police and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
Diaz allegedly prescribed “profound” doses of drugs, including strong painkillers such as OxyContin, Fentanyl and Dilaudid, and some patients required emergency room visits shortly after leaving his office, according to a 75-page affidavit from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He had multiple complaints made against him to the Medical Board of California, which revoked his license 10 months after his arrest. Some pharmacies also blacklisted Diaz and refused to fill out his prescriptions, particularly painkillers, according to the affidavit
Heidi and Robert Montgomery of Solvang were the first to sue last July, alleging that Diaz’s prescriptions contributed to the death of their 24-year-old son, Adam Montgomery. He died in November 2011, and was being prescribed an average of 63 prescription pills a day in the six weeks before his death, according to the affidavit.
The family’s attorney, Rich Collins, said the former Santa Ynez Valley Union High School athlete injured his back at work in 2008 and went to Diaz seeking pain relief.
Collins said the Montgomerys became worried when they began to see their son’s life spiraling out of control, and called Diaz’s office and the medical board multiple times, begging for a stop to the flow of medications.
Santa Barbara resident Kiera Boyd also sued for wrongful death and medical malpractice in July, alleging that Diaz negligently prescribed multiple drugs to her mother, Pamela Ann McCay.
McCay, a longtime Ventura County resident, died of an overdose soon after a visit to Diaz, according to the civil complaint.
On March 16, 2011, Diaz “prescribed to decedent methadone, Xanax, Norco, Soma, Oxycontin and Valium knowing decedent did not suffer any medical condition warranting the use of all of said drugs and with the knowledge that the combined use of said drugs has a high probability of causing a harmful or fatal overdose,” the complaint states. “Four days later on March 20, 2011, decedent died in her sleep as a result of ingesting a combination of said drugs prescribed by defendants.”
In December, Micaiah, Mishaela and Krista Meadows sued Diaz in the death of their father, Goleta resident Roscoe Steven Meadows, who died at age 49 on Sept. 20, 2009.
Diaz, Sansum Clinic Pharmacy Inc. and its owner, Steven Cooley, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Meadows started seeing Diaz on Nov. 25, 2008, for a pain management consultation, diagnosis and treatment for pain in his cervical spine, lumbar spine and bilateral knees from prior injuries and a history of surgeries, according to the complaint.
The pain management regimen was a “complex combination of highly addictive, dangerous medications in increasingly higher dosages over time,” and fell below what other reasonably careful doctors would have implemented, the complaint states. It also claims there was no meaningful history taken, no physical exam, no monitoring or reassessing treatment, and no meaningful discussion with the patient on goals, expectations, potential risks and alternatives.
Pharmacists who filled the prescriptions owe a duty “to use reasonable care to see that the prescriptions for drugs were filled so as to be fit for human use,” it stated.
Negligence of the defendants caused Meadows to spiral into addiction and ultimately die, the complaint alleges.
His three heirs were totally dependent on him for support and maintenance, and suffered economic and non-economic damages. In a letter written to the defendants, Meadows’ attorney, Richard Collins, said the plaintiffs “will allege and prove that your professional negligence was the proximate cause of Steven Meadows’ death.”
Jill Jennell filed a complaint for damages for medical malpractice against Diaz in October, with an updated complaint last week. The documents are not available for viewing since they’re already in judge’s chambers. A case management conference is scheduled for February in Superior Court for her case, as well as two of the others.
Garden Grove criminal attorney Michael Guisti is representing Diaz in the federal case, which is expected to go to trial this May in Santa Ana. Diaz is out on bail, back at his home in Goleta.
The affidavit raises serious allegations, but Guisti argues that Diaz’s actions were within his discretion as a doctor.
“I’m not as concerned about going to trial in this case as I might in other types of cases,” Guisti said. “I think he has some very good defenses, and think he acted within medical discretion.”
Guisti isn’t representing Diaz in the civil litigation, but said those cases probably won’t see court until after the criminal case is over.
“The U.S. Attorney is basically alleging that he knowingly prescribed drugs when there wasn’t a medical purpose for them,” Guisti said. “That’s such a broad catch-all that anybody, I hypothesize, who was treated by him and knows he’s a doctor — and has money and insurance — would file a suit. I’d guess there will be a lot of suits.”