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Unlicensed Doctors: Consequences and Ramifications

This blog has frequently discussed the importance of getting adequate medical treatment for your injuries if you have been involved in an accident. In addition to the obvious health benefits, obtaining medical care creates a “paper trail” which helps document and prove the extent of your injuries should you later file a personal injury lawsuit seeking compensation for health care bills and other expenses.

Well, it has become apparent that a caveat must be added to this directive: after an accident, it is important to seek medical care from a licensed physician or health care provider.

This distinction is relevant because of this month’s news article about a woman who died after receiving medical care from two unlicensed physicians. What makes matters worse is that she died after an elective cosmetic procedure, not from emergency treatment after an accident. Elena Caro wanted an injection to enhance her buttocks; but instead of seeking out a licensed treatment facility, she met two “physicians” in northeast Las Vegas on Charleston Boulevard just west of I-515 – at a two-room office in the rear of a business that sold floor tile.

When Caro’s daughter returned to where she had dropped her mother off earlier in the day, the “facility” was closed and no one was there. The daughter called police, who discovered that Caro had been abandoned by her caregivers several miles away. Bystanders called 911 and an ambulance came and rushed Caro to a hospital, but she did not survive her injuries. Police later arrested Ruben Dario Matallana-Galvas and Carmen Olfidia Torres-Sanchez at McCarran Airport as they were trying to board a flight back to their native Colombia. Authorities say this is not the first time they’ve seen unlicensed medical practitioners operating in the Valley.

There are numerous medical ethics ramifications which pertain to this incident, but let’s limit our discussion to the legal aspects of this tragedy. Caro’s family may wish to seek damages from Matallana-Galvas and Torres-Sanchez through a wrongful death lawsuit. But here’s the problem: courts generally do not recognize medical care expenses incurred from visits to unlicensed physicians. This issue may make it tougher for Caro’s heirs to prevail in their suit.

Which brings us to our main point: if you are unlucky enough to be hurt in an accident, do not seek out a friend, family member, or other untrained individual to treat your injuries. Because if you discover later that your injuries were not healed or even exacerbated by substandard medical care by unlicensed personnel (or worse, your family members find out that you died because your injuries weren’t properly treated), it is difficult if not impossible to seek reimbursement for medical expenses in any subsequent lawsuit. Usually, courts only recognize health care performed by licensed practitioners as legitimate medical expenses.

One more thing: if you’re being operated on in the back of a floor tile store, chances are good that you’re not getting the highest quality of care possible.