Urata Singleton attempts to negioate the hallway in her Leon home. A malpractice suit she filed against Dr. Jack M. Levine in 2001 alleges surgery he performed on her foot contributed to her near inability to walk. (Photo by Lawrence Smith)
Singleton shows the scars from the surgeries she's had on her foot since 2000. The orginial surgery performed by Levine may have been unnecessary, and led to Singleton filing a suit against Levine.
LEON – Had a former Mason County physician shown a little compassion and courtesy, he would not have been the defendant in a lawsuit says one of his former patients.
"He never once tried to help me or find out what the problem was," said Urata A. Singleton about Dr. Jack M. Levine. "He wanted to put my problem on someone else."
In addition to Levine, Singleton, 40, doesn't have many good words for her attorney, Frank Armada of Teays Valley, who she hired to bring a malpractice suit against Levine in 2001. Despite keeping her informed early on of the case's progress, Singleton alleges Armada never told her why portions of her case were ordered sealed by the judge or the reason why it was dismissed in 2004.
"I don't know why it was closed," Singleton said. "All I know is I was screwed."
A simple procedure gone bad
According to records on file in the Mason Circuit Clerk's office, Singleton was one of five people to bring a suit against Levine in the seven-year period of 1994 to 2001. Ralph A. Barcus, of Gallipolis, Ohio, filed what is now the sixth suit against Levine in December alleging Levine failed to totally remove a catheter from his chest in May 2001.
All five previous cases against Levine, who, according to court records, had staffing privileges at Pleasant Valley Hospital from 1988 to 2001, were closed for one reason or another. Three of the cases were either voluntarily dismissed or settled out-of-court.
Another filed by Delores and Buster Clonch of Gallipolis, Ohio was dismissed in October 2001 when their attorney Richard M. Lewis of Jackson, Ohio, could not substantiate allegations of substance abuse on Levine's behalf leveled against him in the initial complaint. The order to seal the case by Mason Circuit Judge David W. Nibert came two weeks after Singleton filed her suit against Levine.
According to Singleton, her experience with Levine -- who now lives and practices medicine in Shelbyville, Ill. -- started in 2000.
It was then, she said, that her family physician, Dr. Curtis Pack, referred her to him for treatment of a Ganglion cyst on her left foot.
The cyst, Singleton said, was basically a knot on the top of her foot that "wasn't painful, but it was irritating." The position of the cyst made tying her shoes difficult, she said.
Upon consulting with him on a Tuesday, Singleton said Levine told her that it was imperative she immediately have surgery to remove the cyst. Three days later, Singleton says she was under the knife.
That decision was a fateful one, Singleton says. She alleges that as a result of Levine's surgery she was not been able to walk without assistance since then.
Also, Singleton said she later learned from other doctors that the surgery was unnecessary. She was told that the cyst could have been "removed" by simply sticking a needle in it, and sucking out the fluid.
Furthermore, adding the proverbial insult in injury was Levine telling people in conversation and during deposition that she was the one who was insistent on having the surgery.
Pawning off responsibility
Problems with Levine's surgery, Singleton said, surfaced immediately. After the anesthesia wore off, the pain was very noticeable.
"The pain was just so severe in my foot it was terrible," Singleton said. "They sent me home screaming."
Despite expressing her concerns about the pain, Singleton says Levine kept telling her it was all "in her head." Though he later prescribed her some pain medication, she was unable to tolerate them.
For the first three months after the surgery, Singleton says her foot stayed purple with the area around the incision oozing. At the suggestion of her gynecologist, Singleton went to have her foot re-examined.
However, that was not easy, she said. After consulting with Pack about what he could, he referred her to Levine since he was the one who performed the surgery.
At this point, Singleton said she felt like a ping-pong ball as Levine referred her back to Pack who, again, referred her to Levine. Instead of setting an appointment with her to diagnosis the problem, Singleton says Levine refers her to an orthopedic specialist at PVH.
Frustrated, Singleton says she conferred with Dr. Jeffrey Shook in Huntington who performed three surgeries on her foot between August 2000 and August 2001. The surgeries relieved the pain, and for awhile, enabled her to walk with little assistance.
Not informed of dismissal
The decision to bring a malpractice suit against Levine, Singleton said, came prior to consulting with Shook "to clean up [Levine's] mess." According to Singleton, Levine said if she were to seek disability, he would help see that she got it. But, if she sued him, he would see to it that she got nothing.
On Oct. 4, 2001, with the assistance of Armada, Singleton filed suit against Levine. In her original complaint, Singleton alleged that as a result of Levine's actions she "suffered permanent damage in and to her left foot and leg as well as other parts of her body."
In her suit, Singleton asked for $15,000 in damages for direct medical expenses as a result of Levine's alleged malpractice.
From the time the suit was filed until 2004, Singleton said the case appeared to be going in her favor. The only obstacle was getting Levine deposed.
Any hopes of receiving some sort of settlement were dashed on March 23, 2004. It was about this time Singleton says she received a call from Armada saying that Mason Circuit Judge Thomas C. Evans III refused to hear the case against Levine, and that any further legal action against PVH, which was named as a co-defendant, was "hanging by a thin thread."
Armada, Singleton said, pledged to keep her updated. However, she later learned second-hand the case was dismissed, and, to date, has received no communication from Armada.
According to court records, the case was slated for trial on March 30. The day before, a hearing was held on the case in which Armada made a motion on Singleton's behalf to dismiss her claims against Levine.
Court records indicate that the desire to dismiss the case was a result of Armada's inability to use a "confidential and privileged document" he received from PVH. At the request of Levine's attorneys Barry M. Taylor and Max L. Corley III, of the Huntington law firm Jenkins Fenstermaker, Evans placed portions of the court record containing the document under seal.
Armada filed a writ of prohibition against Evans with the state Supreme Court on March 23. In a 4-1 decision, the Court denied his petition.
Likewise, the Court denied a petition by Taylor and Corley to place the entire case under seal. In a unanimous decision, the Court ordered that only what Evans placed under seal would remain under seal.
Nevertheless, during the March 29 hearing, Taylor and Corley filed a motion for a protective order requiring Armada to return the document. In his May 3, 2004 dismissal order, Evans ruled that though Armada did not have to return the document, he was barred from discussing it.
Though Evans' order also bars Singleton from discussing the document, she says she has no idea what it was about. All she knows it that Armada has refused to return any of the phone calls she's left with him since the case was dismissed.
"We felt very confident in winning the case," Singleton said. "Nothing was ever said it was over and done with."
When the Record attempted to get a comment from Armada, he refused to return repeated telephone calls. Also, Taylor declined to comment on Levine's behalf for this story.
Ordeals far from over
Since the case's dismissal, Singleton's problems have compounded. Her feeling of hopelessness as a result of her limited mobility led to a rift in her marriage to her husband, Danny.
They divorced in 2005.
Shortly after that, Singleton moved to Nitro. At one home in which she was living, a wall collapsed on her, crushing two of her vertebrae.
The injury, she says, makes standing, let alone walking, difficult.
Though on partial disability while still married to him, Singleton had to go back to work after she divorced Danny. However, the injury she sustained from the wall collapse has forced her to seek total disability.
Now, she is back living with Danny in Leon. The living arrangement, she said, is mostly for the benefit of their two teenage children so they can have someone to provide for them while she seeks approval of her application for disability payments.
The inability to partake of her children's outside activities is what bothers Singleton most. Prior to the surgery on her foot, she was active in her son's midget football league.
Levine, Singleton tearfully says, "has taken that away from me for no reason."
Had he admitted he made a mistake and worked, as she asked, to correct it, Singleton said she probably wouldn't have filed her suit. However, his arrogance led her to take the action she did, and the bitterness she still has for him.
"Yeah, I hate Dr. Levine," Singleton said composing herself, and lighting up a cigarette. "He's not No. 1 in my book. If all he would have done is fix me."
Mason Circuit Court case number: 01-C-320