Penning Donald Trump’s enthusiastic clean bill of health in five minutes may have been one of Dr. Harold Bornstein’s least consequential mistakes. In 2002, he paid $86,250 to the husband of a former patient to settle a lawsuit alleging that Bornstein overmedicated his wife with powerful, unneeded prescriptions, which contributed to her addiction—and ultimately her death.
The 2002 lawsuit is one of three malpractice claims brought against Trump’s longtime gastroenterologist since 1992, two of which allege the doctor improperly administered powerful drugs which led to the death of patients. Both of those cases were settled before jury trials, with no finding of liability against Dr. Bornstein.
Health has become a central focus of the 2016 presidential campaign, with Donald Trump and his surrogates pushing conspiracy theories that Clinton suffers from several office-disqualifying maladies including strokes. On Sunday, Donald Trump challenged Hillary Clinton to release “detailed medical records” and said he had “no problem in doing so,” hours after the Clinton campaign published a takedown of Dr. Bornstein’s statement that questioned his professionalism and credentials.
In one of the complaints, reviewed by The Daily Beast, Kenneth Levin alleged Bornstein “was negligent, careless, and unskilled in failing to properly diagnose the plaintiff” and in treating his wife, Janet Levin.
The complaint also alleges Bornstein was negligent “in failing to make a referral to a mental health professional; in wrongfully prescribing tuinal, morphine, and valium, particularly in light of the history of drinking; in improperly and negligently seeing the patient without providing treatment; and in overmedicating the decedent.”
According to the complaint, Bornstein began treating 49-year-old Janet Levin in 1994 and soon was seeing her “several times a week,” but provided no further medical treatment other than medicating her with tuinal and valium “greatly in excess of appropriate dosages.”
Dr. Bornstein did not return a request for comment, but denied the allegations in court documents.
A family member who asked not to be named confirmed the allegations to The Daily Beast.
“He prescribed for her medication disproportionate for her physical weight and she ended up falling and dying,” the family member said. “I’m not saying it is because of him, but he contributed to her death. This is now 18 years ago. [Kenneth] has passed away.”
In the complaint, Levin’s husband claimed Bornstein continued to prescribe barbiturates and sedatives “despite full knowledge that these prescriptions were not for the treatment of any known condition and in amounts that were well above therapeutic levels.”
The cocktail of drugs allegedly prescribed to Janet Levin—barbiturates, tranquilizers, and opiates—are all highly addictive and are among the most frequently abused prescription drugs, according to The National Library of Medicine. The medical dictionary lists intoxicated falls as possible complications from these drugs.
In 1997, Janet Levin was admitted to Mt. Sinai Hospital for a drug overdose. In January 1998, records say, she “suffered a fall” and died.
Her husband alleged in a 1999 lawsuit that Dr. Bornstein “ignored the signs and symptoms of a habitual addiction which he created or helped to create.”
Dr. Bornstein has been sued for malpractice at least three times, according to state court records. In a 2000 suit, Lorraine Pollifrone alleged Bornstein “improperly medicated” her husband, 57-year-old Vincent Pollifrone, causing his death during a colonoscopy. That case was settled for an unknown amount, according to New York Daily News.
Malpractice suits aren’t uncommon among medical professionals, of course. But questions about the professionalism of Dr. Bornstein have been raised since the gastroenterologist released a hyperbolic statement of health for the Republican presidential candidate in December.
In the four-paragraph letter, Bornstein said a recent complete medical examination “showed only positive results,” and Trump had “astonishingly excellent” blood pressure and laboratory test results.
According to the letter, Trump’s physical strength and stamina is “extraordinary,” his cardiovascular health is “excellent,” and, Bornstein wrote, “I can state unequivocally, [Trump] will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”
In an interview with NBC News, Bornstein clarified his statement, acknowledging he wrote the letter “in five minutes” as Trump’s campaign staff waited in a limo outside his office.
“In a rush, I think some of those words didn’t come out exactly the way they were meant,” he said.
As for his superlative-laden language, Bornstein said, “I think I picked up his kind of language and then just interpreted it to my own.”
Medical experts reached by The Daily Beast questioned the professionalism of such a letter, and Bornstein’s explanation.
“It just isn’t done. It’s unprofessional, unethical, and violates basic common sense,” said Arthur Caplan, founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“A gastroenterologist should not be offering an assessment of Trump’s overall health. He should certainly be doing it in tandem with other experts or someone who is a generalist. If he was commenting on Trump’s guts it might make some sense.”
Bornstein told NBC News that Trump’s overall health is “excellent—especially his mental health.”
“Beyond that,” Caplan continued, “you don’t do an assessment in a few minutes, and you don’t do it without having the person in front of you. You don’t write a letter without examining the patient.”
In his letter, Bornstein included Lenox Hill Hospital in his signature. When reached for comment by The Daily Beast, a spokesman for Lenox Hill stressed that Bornstein is not actually employed by the hospital.
In a statement, Lenox Hill said: “Dr. Bornstein is a voluntary physician who has admitting privileges at Lenox Hill Hospital, but he is not employed by the hospital. Physicians may have admitting privileges at several hospitals. Dr. Bornstein is in private practice. He does not have an office at Lenox Hill, nor does he see patients here. In the letter, Dr. Bornstein is speaking on behalf of his patient and his views and opinions are his own.”