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Ohio radiologist slaps Plain Dealer with libel lawsuit for $100 million

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Zelch suit targets unnamed `co-conspirators'Ohio radiologist Dr. James Zelch is claiming that the ClevelandPlain Dealer didn't give him a plain deal when it wrote a seriesof articles last year alleging that he circumvented the

Zelch suit targets unnamed `co-conspirators'

Ohio radiologist Dr. James Zelch is claiming that the ClevelandPlain Dealer didn't give him a plain deal when it wrote a seriesof articles last year alleging that he circumvented the state'scertificate-of-need (CON) laws when purchasing MRI scanners. Zelchfiled a $100 million lawsuit in March against the

Plain Dealer

,charging the newspaper with libel.

The Plain Dealer has found radiology to be a handy punchingbag in recent years. In 1992 the newspaper published an investigativeseries on radiation misadministration errors in nuclear medicineand radiation therapy (SCAN 1/27/93). An expose published in March1994 entitled "Images of Deceit" claimed that Ohio'sCON law was ineffective because radiologists and imaging vendorswere lowballing scanner price tags to come in under the law's$1 million ceiling (SCAN 4/20/94).

Zelch figured prominently in those articles, which he claimswere rife with false allegations that severely damaged his practice.The Ohio radiologist struck back by filing a $100 million libelsuit in Ohio state court in Cleveland. In addition to the PlainDealer, Zelch's lawsuit targets unnamed parties -- listed onlyas John Does -- who Zelch said were behind the Plain Dealer articles.

"We are investigating to find out who gave the ClevelandPlain Dealer false information that led to the malicious slanderthat was very damaging to my practice," Zelch said. "Theyhad three days of plastering me on the front page with a lot offalse accusations and untruths."

The Plain Dealer articles caused a 40% drop in imaging volumeat Zelch's northeast Ohio practices and a 60% drop in volume atother practices outside the state. Business has returned to about75% of normal in Ohio and is lower in other areas, Zelch said.Court documents filed by Zelch claim he has suffered over $22million in business losses due to the articles.

Plain Dealer reporters knew that several allegations and statementsin the articles were untrue when they were published, accordingto the court documents. Investigations by state and federal authoritiesin the wake of the series failed to attribute any wrongdoing toZelch, the documents state.

The lawsuit is in the discovery stage, Zelch said. The PlainDealer declined to comment on the litigation.

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