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Was TV News Report About Surgeon Libelous?

Neurosurgeon says 'misleading' story drove patients away.

Published: April 11, 2014

A Texas neurosurgeon whose defamation suit against an Austin TV station was dismissed in 2011 will have his day in court, after all, where he'll claim that his practice collapsed as a result of a libelous report the station aired.

The case has been revived by the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled that the gist of the story — what a viewer would likely take from the report about Byron Neely, MD — was arguably inaccurate and potentially misleading.

The broadcast, which was aired by KEYE-TV, began with news anchor Fred Cantu asking in part, "If you needed surgery, would you want to know if your surgeon had been disciplined for prescribing himself and taking dangerous drugs?"

Dr. Neely had been disciplined for self-prescribing hydrocodone after suffering a torn rotator cuff (and after his treating physician had legitimately prescribed the painkiller), but he stopped taking it before the state medical board reviewed his case, and the board found no evidence that he'd either become addicted, or that he'd operated while under the influence of drugs.

The broadcast continued with a clip of a former patient saying, "Narcotics, opiates, I mean it's … things that they don't even let people operate machinery or drive cars when they're … taking them, and this guy's doing brain surgery on people."

The TV station argued that the dismissal should be upheld because it was reporting third-party allegations and there was no evidence of negligence on its part.

Calls to Dr. Neely for comment by Outpatient Surgery Magazine were not immediately returned.

Jim Burger

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