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Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Where Does Wrestler Benoit's Doctor's Liability End?

It's been a bad couple of days for the medical profession. Turns out even doctors aren't immune to the terrorist bug. And the sad story of Chris Benoit, the steroid-pumping wrestler who murdered his wife and child before hanging himself on a weight machine, has now swept in Benoit's former physician, Dr. Phil Astin.

A few days back, feds raided Astin's office. Now, Astin has been indicted for drug distribution. Findlaw has a copy of the complaint, including seven counts of Controlled Substances Act violations, here.

Dr. Astin has had some trouble before, relating to loss of privileges, lying, and domestic violence. But the latest federal charges may have the most bite. As indicated in a DEA Agent's affidavit now available thanks to the Smoking Gun, Dr. Astin prescribed Benoit a 10-month supply of steroids every three weeks. Either Benoit was prone to lose his drugs, or he was taking slightly more than the appropriate dose. There are certainly medically appropriate uses for anabolic steroids, such as treating the "wasting" that sometimes results from cancer or AIDS. But it will be quite a surprise if it turns out that someone with Benoit's physique suffered from such a condition.

Legally, Dr. Astin's criminal troubles may pale in comparison to his potential civil liability. The question is whether Dr. Astin may be on the hook for the death of Benoit's family or Benoit himself. By violating criminal statutes for drug distribution, Dr. Astin may have been negligent-per-se, or at least committed an unreasonable act which represented a depature from the standard of care. The hard part in a civil case would be demonstrating proximate cause. That is to say, would Benoit's intervening criminal actions (murder and suicide) supersede Astin's unreasonable and illegal distribution of steroirds? Are violent reactions from over-presecription sufficiently foreseeable to allow recovery from a doctor? Are the links between steroids and so-called "roid rage" sufficiently proven?

You can read some comments by supposed friends and patients of Dr. Astin here.


I'm not feeling a civil suit lasting long. I agree with your analysis of the proxmiate problem--and specifically, in gathering enough Daubert-proof doctors/scientists to sustain the "rage" angle.

From what I've read (and I didn't get to read that LAT article--behind a firewall), the connection of certain steroids to uncontrollable hostility has little actual correlation (unlike correlation with heart damage and other problems). Any expert willing to testify to "roid rage" would be hotly contested by a wealth of authority.

Additionally, the waters are muddied in any case against this Dr. Nick after allegations surfaced that Benoit reguarly used the drug GBH in either professional or casual situations. This creates an empty chair scenario that could derail any suit against Dr. Nick.

But that does bring up another interesting angle: products liability. We've been talking about suing the doctor, but what about suing the company for creating a product that they know to be potentially dangerous? See, for example, the Oxycontin suits for failure to dislcose the true addictive nature of the drug.

And: This post is why I love the SLB.

Blogger gorjus -- 7/03/2007 11:55 AM  

I have been patiently waiting for this topic to pop up on this blog. Id like to pose a question a bit different than the original post. I saw an interesting interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin's ex-wife, who is a former pro "wrestler" / entertainer her self. She has detailed the rampant steroid and rec dud abuse in the WWE in a book, and also claims that the WWE is fully aware of the problem of domestic abuse involving their employees like Steve Austin and Benoit. In fact she even goes as far as to claim that the WWE actively conceals the abuse. There is no question that they (WWE) profit from their employees drug abuse, after all, who would whatch all these guys "wrestle" if they didnt look like freaks? Im not a big fan of this type of sports entertainment, but I follow it passively, mostly through friends. I have seen that a lot of these athletes are dying very early, often with enlarged hearts, clear evidence of steroid abuse.

My question, which was discarded by a retired pro-wrestler on Fox News, is whether there can be any liability on the part of the WWE?

I realize it would be incredibly hard to prove, but id like to see if anyone on the blog can come up with a good argument on this one. it seems the WWE plays a passive role since they neither prescribe the drugs nor officially require their performers to use them.

and to answer the original question, I think that the doctor could be found to be at least partially liable here. But like the previous poster, i dont think this will come from the "roid rage" angle, since it is not a proven connection, and it will be hard to find doctors willing to put their reputation on the line here. But I think one possibility is to use the depression angle instead of the rage angle. Severe depression and suicide (and murder-suicide) has been well documented as side-effects of prolonged steroid use. The WWE issued a press release when the Benoit story broke, stating that this could not be roid rage since it was carried out over a several days, not in a fit of anger. Depression seems to fit the bill very well here, and I dont think it's too far of a leap to hold an MD liabale for the results of side-effects from steroids illegaly prescribed.

Blogger Jimmy H -- 7/03/2007 9:26 PM  

Just a very sad case...I think the doctor should have reported the potential for this kind of action.

Anonymous J. Grant -- 7/08/2007 11:16 AM  

I'm amazed that anybody is "confused" about what happened. Anybody who has done any work related to domestic violence isn't confused at all.

Domestic violence is about the dominant partner's pathological need to control the victim. Victim avocates and survivors have been trying for years to help people understand that intimate partner violence is not "caused" by alcohol, drugs, or steroids. While chemicals may contribute to irrational behavior, the driving force behind the violence exists within the twisted mind of the abuser. It cannot and should not be "blamed" on anything other than their barbaric, narcissistic and pathological attitudes.

I heard Benoit's colleagues on Larry King Live sing his praises ... they talked about what a great professional he was, but nobody knew anything about his relationship with his wife. One of them said that he bragged about his son often, but still no mention of his wife. This is also typical of domestic violence criminals (and they are criminals, you know). They see themselves in their children ... but they see their partner as nothing more than "property."

I really hope that neither steroids, or even the "violent" nature of his profession, is allowed to clowd the reality of this tragedy.

Domestic violence murders are happening all the time in every neighborhood ... and yet, we're all still so damn "confused."

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/11/2007 3:20 PM  

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