WINFIELD – Whether Putnam General Hospital is partly to blame in more than 120 medical malpractice suits against Dr. John King is at the heart of a trial that began Monday in Putnam Circuit Court.

King has been named a defendant by dozens of former patients or surviving family members for his six months at Putnam General in 2002 and 2003. Those med mal cases allege King did shoddy and sometimes unnecessary surgeries.

Those patients and survivors say Putnam General didn't do a thorough job of checking out King's credentials before he started work as an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital in October 2002.

King also did not practice full disclosure when he applied at Putnam General. He didn't mention all pending malpractice allegations against him at the time, and he didn't mention a 1999 arrest concerning the removal of log books from a Florida medical facility.

But during Monday's opening statements, an attorney for Putnam General said the hospital did all it could when checking King's background. Stephen Rodolf said other hospitals had failed to report some claims against King to a national database used by hospitals to check credentials.

After Putnam General suspended him in May 2003, King gave up his West Virginia license. He since has changed his name to Christopher Wallace Martin and might be in Alabama. He is not expected to testify in this trial, but a deposition of him might be used.

Hospital Corporation of America Inc. owned Putnam General when King worked there. But last August, HCA announced it planned to close the hospital, citing the legal climate of doing business. But Charleston Area Medical Center bought the facility and avoided closing Putnam County's only hospital.

Circuit Judge O.C. "Hobby" Spaulding is hearing the credentialing case. This outcome will determine whether Putnam General will be included in the cases still pending against King.

The trial is expected to last about a week.

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