BANGOR, Maine — A jury will decide if a Corinth woman is unable to work because she stopped breathing and suffered brain damage after a Jonesport doctor allegedly overprescribed methadone for pain or whether her injury stemmed from other medical conditions.
Charlene Whalen, 59, sued Dr. Steven Weisberger, whose office is in Jonesport, in Penobscot County Superior Court three years ago. She is seeking $2 million in damages.
The trial got under way Wednesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
“A doctor is never allowed to needlessly endanger his patient,” Whalen’s attorney, Matt Morrison of Waco, Texas, told the jury of six men and four women in his opening statement.
Weisberger’s attorney, Chris Nyhan of Portland, told the jurors in his opening statement they would have to decide who is more credible — the out-of-state experts the defense plans to call as witnesses or the doctors who treated Whalen at Eastern Maine Medical Center on Sept. 1, 2006, the night she was brought to the emergency room.
Whalen had worked for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services for 18 years when she decided to take a medical leave of absence in 2006 to deal with her chronic back pain, Morrison told the jury in his opening statement. She was referred to Weisberger by her primary care physician, Dr. Gary Ross.
Weisberger was using Prolotherapy to treat patients with chronic pain, Whalen’s attorney said. Treatment included injections into the area around her spine that caused inflammation designed to promote healing, according to information on the website www.prolotherapy.org. The Jonesport doctor prescribed methadone for the resulting pain on Aug. 30, 2006.
About 48 hours later, Whalen’s fiance, Bob Ring of Corinth, awoke in the middle of the night when she stopped breathing, Morrison told the jury. Although Ring was able to revive her, Whalen suffered brain damage that affected her ability to multitask and perform tasks that require a high level of brain functioning — “the things that jobs require,” Morrison told jurors. “Before the brain injury, she was the caretaker in the family. Now she needs taking care of.”
Morrison also told jurors that the pretrial screening panel, which is required in all medical malpractice cases, found that Weisberger had deviated from the standard of care and that his deviation had caused Whalen’s injuries.
Nyhan told the jury that Whalen never mentioned to the pharmacist when she filled the prescription for methadone that she had had breathing problems previously and suffered from sleep apnea.
“You don’t get a reward in court if you have an injury,” Nyhan told jurors. “The plaintiff has the burden of proving malpractice.”
Morrison said during a morning break that Whalen contacted him through a former client she met in an online support group for people who have been prescribed methadone.
Bangor attorney Brett Baber is working with lawyers for the plaintiff.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating at the end of next week.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that attorney Brett Baber is working on the defense team. He is working with lawyers for the plaintiff.