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It’s business as usual these days at the office of Dr. Peter Kwon, who runs a family medical practice in Anacostia. Every day his patients, mostly Medicaid referrals, submit to Kwon’s routine examinations. What they may not know is that Kwon has weathered seven malpractice suits for allegedly fondling his female patients and is reportedly the target of a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigation for allegedly inappropriately prescribing drugs according to a DEA source. And to make matters worse, the doctor recently performed a little automotive surgery on an HMO client who was in his parking lot; the victim is suing Kwon for injuries resulting from the accident.
In 1994, six women sued Kwon in D.C. Superior Court for multiple civil counts of assault, battery, unlawful touching, sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, and medical misconduct. At the heart of the suits were charges that Kwon had given the women inappropriate breast exams (see “Examining Motivation,” 5/10). After two years of litigation, Kwon recently settled all six cases out of court for less than $100,000.
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The cases against Kwon began when plaintiff Evelyn Holiday alleged in a complaint that the first time she consulted Kwon for high blood pressure back in 1991, he lifted up her blouse under the pretense of checking her breathing, fondled her breasts, and pinched her nipples—and that he engaged in similar acts during every subsequent exam she received between 1991 and 1993. While Kwon was giving her breasts special attention, Holiday alleged in her complaint that he failed to diagnose a cyst on her spine that she had been mentioning for months.
The other five women, also represented by attorneys Jack Pearce and D. Olanden Davenport, told similar tales. (Kwon settled another case in December.) Kwon has consistently maintained that he has done nothing wrong, and that he gives the same breast exam to every woman who comes into his office if more than 30 days have passed since her last visit.
His attorney, Patricia Tazzara, said in an interview last May that Kwon works in a difficult practice in Anacostia, where 80 percent of his clients are on Medicaid. She said the charges against Kwon had been whipped up by the plaintiff’s attorneys. Nevertheless, early this month, Kwon reportedly agreed to pay the six women close to $100,000 to avoid going to court and airing the cases in public. The settlement agreements are sealed up tight, barring the women from disclosing the terms of their settlements or discussing the details of the case with anyone. Tazzara did not return calls for this story.
However, Kwon may have gotten off relatively cheaply given the number of cases filed against him. The settlement amounts differed depending on the frequency of the plaintiffs’ visits to Kwon. Three of the women reportedly received $18,000 each, one received $23,000, and the other two $11,000 and $9,000, respectively. Yet after the lawyers took a third of the settlement and charged the women for expenses, most of them reportedly ended up taking home $5,000 or less. One of the plaintiffs, Joyce Wheeler, died of AIDS only a few days after the settlement was completed. According to a source familiar with the case, her money is now tied up in D.C. probate court, despite her wishes that it be turned over directly to her daughter.
Settling the suits may not put an end to the strange case of Dr. Kwon. Two sources familiar with Kwon say that other former patients have come forward and are likely to file suit against him as well. More serious still, Kwon is currently under investigation by the DEA for allegedly dispensing prescription drugs illegally. A DEA source says the agency has been looking into Kwon’s practice for several years and is preparing to hold an administrative hearing on his federal license to dispense controlled substances.
Rounding out Kwon’s busy legal docket is a lawsuit filed in May by D.C. resident Glenn White. According to court records and attorney Hubert Schlosberg, Kwon rear-ended White at Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Eaton Road SE last July while White was waiting to make a right turn. The impact sent White’s car crashing into a lamppost, causing White to suffer neck and back injuries. Schlosberg says Kwon attempted to take White to his office and treat him after the accident, but White declined (even though Kwon was White’s HealthPlus HMO primary care physician).
Schlosberg says Kwon offered White’s sister, who owned the car, a check for the property damages if she didn’t contact his insurance company. Schlosberg says Kwon is insured by Maryland Auto Insurance Fund, the high-risk insurance company in Maryland that has a state mandate to insure drivers that no other firm will take on. He says Kwon is only covered for $20,000, and the insurance company offered White only a paltry settlement for his medical bills. On May 13, White filed suit against Kwon for $150,000 in Superior Court.
Despite having settled seven malpractice cases and being investigated by the federal government, Kwon may be more likely to lose his driver’s license than his medical license. The D.C. Board of Medicine says Kwon is still a doctor licensed in good standing. “We have not received a complaint,” says James Granger, the board executive director. “No charges have been filed and no action has been taken against his license.”