Ex-Swedish Health surgeon suing Seattle Times over stories that led to his resignation

Johnny Delashaw, MD, the former chief of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute (SNI), is suing the Seattle Times over what he alleges was a “false and defamatory” investigative article that damaged his reputation and led to his resignation and the suspension of his medical license.

The Seattle Times series began in February 2017, focusing on how Swedish Health administrations allegedly pushed a “high volume approach” on surgeons. SNI was specifically cited in a May 2017 article which said four surgeons, including Delashaw, “double-booked” surgeries for more than half their cases over a three-year period in order to increase his pay.

Delashaw had resigned weeks after the first story was published and by May 2017, had his license suspended, a decision he is appealing. In a copy of the complaint shared by the Seattle Times, Delashaw argued the story’s assertions that performing concurrent surgeries endangered patients were false and said his salaried position gave him no financial incentive to increase his surgical volume.

“In an effort to generate readers via sensational press, the Times sacrificed truth for accuracy, leveling catastrophic blows on Dr. Delashaw, his reputation, his finances and his patients,” the suit said.

The suit also targeted another doctor, Charles Cobbs, MD, alleging he made false statements about Delashaw because they were angered by lost income and authority when Delashaw ran SNI.

Delashaw is seeking unspecified monetary damages, an order preventing the Times from making false statements against him, as well as removing and retracting claims about him made in the previous articles.

The Seattle Times said Delashaw never requested any correction on its story before filing the lawsuit and pointed out areas where the complaint agreed with its reporting—like how Delashaw supported basing surgeon compensation at SNI almost entirely on volume to ensure their pay wasn’t “siphoned off by surgeons who were not performing the work.”

“We are reviewing the complaint, but we stand by the accuracy of the ‘Quantity of Care’ series,” said Alan Fisco, president of the Seattle Times. “As this is a legal matter, we will have no further comment at this time.”