Doctor Alfred Bonati’s Years of Legal Battles: Predecessor to Laser Spine Institute Found Liable Yet Again

For over thirty (30) years, Dr. Alfred Bonati has been running the Bonati Spine Institute in Hudson, Florida.  Dr. Bonati has had a bevy of legal issues over the years including numerous allegations and findings of unnecessary medical procedures, substandard medical care and a resume that may have included false degrees and references.  His patented techniques for treating patients have been praised by some, but have also created a backlash against the Laser Spine Surgeon and has drawn criticism against Spine Surgeons in general; many of who do not perform laser spine surgery.

Numerous  former patients of Dr. Bonati have claimed that the “revolutionary” orthopedic surgeon conducts unnecessary, inappropriate, and oftentimes harmful procedures on individuals with back pain.   The legal problems began with cases brought by the Florida Board of Medicine, who filed three separate actions against Bonati Spine between 1991 and 1994.  In the third case,  Bonati was sanctioned and placed on two-years of probation by the Florida Board of Medicine.  Since then, Dr. Bonati has faced additional lawsuits concerning allegations of performing medical procedures that were not necessary and lacked any scientific basis.  Please see the following articles:

Following the initial cases against Bonati by the Board of Medicine, past patients began coming forward with severe medical problems following treatment at Bonati Spine Institute.  In 1996,  a Hernando County woman was awarded $3.1 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit after claiming that she was subjected to unnecessary and risky surgeries.  This led to the Bonati Spine Institute filing for bankruptcy until the case was settled in 2001, along with a number of other malpractice claims, for a global settlement of $8 million. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Bonati was expanding his empire worldwide by producing documentaries and writing books.  Unfortunately for Bonati, the notoriety and fame didn’t end the legal problems.  In 2002, The Florida Board of Medicine was investigating a series of complaints against Dr. Bonati when the two side reached an agreement that he would continue to practice only under the supervision of another surgeon.  This new rule led to Bonati Spine Institute bringing newly bankrupted Alabama Doctor name James St. Louis onto the team. 

James St. Louis took the job with Bonati in 2002 and continued to work there for the next few years.  He then began looking for investors to help start his own laser spine surgery practice, which would come to be known as The Laser Spine Institute.  Laser Spine Institute followed a very similar business model to Dr. Bonati’s practice; they use very similar techniques and tools, they hold conferences in motels and hotels to seek out business, and they have an amazing internet presence that draws patients to them from all over the United States.

LSI has legal issues that often mimic Dr. Bonati’s as well.  LSI has a significantly higher rate of malpractice claims against it than Tampa Bay area doctors that subscribe to more traditional forms of surgery.  Many of the legal claims against LSI cite similar unscrupulous tactics to Dr. Bonati; these includes using unproven techniques on patients, performing unnecessary surgeries, and overcharging for useless and sometimes harmful procedures. Recently the accusations against Laser Spine Institute went viral when the formal WWE wrestler Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bolea filed his action against the company for performing what he now believes to be unnecessary and harmful surgeries on him. Additionally, in 2011, Bloomberg published an article laying out a foundation of alarming medical issues concerning Laser Spine Institute that began media frenzy similar to Dr. Bonati’s. (See the full Bloomberg article here.)

It appears that Laser Spine Institute may not have learned from the mistakes of its predecessor. Unfortunately, it’s the patient that suffers while Dr. St. Louis and his partners continue to amass an enormous fortune from Laser Spine Institutes massive yearly profits.

Dr. Bonati and the Bonati Spine Institute haven’t been as successful as Laser Spine Institute over the past several years.  In 2009, a Michigan woman claimed that Dr. Bonati performed 13 surgeries on her in seven months (2006-2007) and kept her in a private condo for six weeks when she should have been treated at a hospital.  The damage caused by Bonati’s procedures resulted in a leakage of the woman’s spinal fluid inducing debilitating pain.  The moderate lower back pain that she was experiencing before Dr. Bonati commenced surgery was dwarfed by the intense crippling pain that debilitated her after the botched surgeries.  (see 6/13/09 TBT article for details)

In 2010, Dr. Bonati was hit with a massive malpractice verdict by William and Gloria Clark.  The couple successfully argued that the doctor duped them into allowing him to perform eight unnecessary and dangerous surgeries on William, which left him in crippling pain and cost him the ability to walk.  All the Clarks had to pay for those stellar results…$175,000.00.  In the end it was Dr. Bonati who ended up paying, as the Clarks verdict was for $12 million. (see 2/4/10 TBT article for details)

The hits keep coming for Dr. Bonati and Bonati Spine Institute who have now lost another malpractice claim.  This time an arbitration panel awarded $2,000,00.00 to Vilmary Mojica. She claimed that the often-sued doctor subjected her to unnecessary testing and performed five of his patented surgeries on her in 2007.  The lawsuit claimed that he breached his duty of care in five separate (all terrifying) ways. (See 3/6/13 TBT article for details).  The lawsuit alleged that Dr. Bonati performed at least two surgeries that lacked any accepted validity, scientific or rationale basis.  He also never attempted to recommend a period of conservative care and opted to proceed immediately with surgery despite her back being in pain for only two months.

My only question is how does Dr. Bonati still maintain a license to practice medicine as a result of the numerous issues and malpractice claims he has faced? 

When you dig deeper you learn of allegations against Dr. Bonati that are not only troubling but raise additional questions about who provides oversight to physicians practicing medicine in the Florida let alone the United States.

Consider the following:

- “to be accepted in Cook County Hospital's training program, he falsely represented in writing that he attended Catholic University in Rome, later admitting that the university was bogus; and that he later claimed to have attended the University of Naples in Italy, which in litigation he admitted was bogus and that he doesn't even know if it exists.”

- According to a lawsuit filed in 2009 and the above referenced Tampa Bay Times article, “he falsified recommendation letters to get into medical school at Wake Forest University. The lawsuit says two doctors whom Bonati claimed to have drafted and signed the letters denied doing so in court depositions.  Dr. Bonati fraudulently entered the United States from Chile, failed the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery exam twice, then created his own board and certified himself.”

- A St. Petersburg Times article from 2000, states the following,  “In 1983, Bonati sought to become board certified in orthopedic surgery. Certification is a big deal to doctors; it means they are trained and tested in their specialty.  But Bonati flunked the exam. He later formed his own specialty board, the Arthroscopy Board of North America Inc., which then certified him in his field.  He also is certified by the American Board of Neurological and Orthopaedic Medicine and Surgery and by the American Academy of Minimally Invasive Spinal Medicine and Surgery. None of the three organizations that certified Bonati is sanctioned by the American Board of Medical Specialties, the rating organization recognized by the American Medical Association.

Unsanctioned boards typically are created by non-conformists, said Dr. G. Paul DeRosa, executive director of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, one of the 24 ABMS-sanctioned boards. "Since they are not courted by mainline physicians," he said, "they'll start their own group."

Doctors who claim membership in unsanctioned organizations "may be great guys who couldn't pass the exams," DeRosa said. “But you need to know that over 85 percent of the orthopedic surgeons in this country are board certified. The other 15 percent are most likely, fringe players." 

I have previously published several articles concerning the numerous issues surrounding laser spine surgery and the physicians who perform such dubious procedures.  Please see:

If you have experienced discomfort or pain in your lower back or neck, it is essential, that you are evaluated by a competent Spine Surgeon.  Make sure that the Surgeon has been accredited by an organization that is recognized by the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) such as the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS).  We have noted that many of the laser spine Surgeons and laser spine facilities are accredited by organizations that have not been recognized by the American Medical Association.  In fact, many of the laser spine Surgeons have created societies and associations, which have provided the very diplomas that decorate their walls.   It is important to obtain a second opinion if you have been recommended for laser spine surgery.  Do your research and realize that laser spine surgery may not be the cookie cutter solution that the sales people hawking this procedure make it out to be. 

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