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San Diego Chargers' Doctor, David Chao, Has Chaotic Past

Although Chargers team doctor David Chao has been cleared after an NFLPA request for review of his qualifications, his past speaks for itself. The Chargers should fire Chao before something franchise-altering happens.


The San Diego Chargers' team doctor, David Chao, has been the center of controversy in recent years and for much of his medical career.

In 2012, the NFLPA formally requested a review of Chao's qualifications to be employed as an NFL team doctor. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith went a step further and publicly criticized Chao at a news conference prior to this year's Super Bowl:

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said at a pre-Super Bowl news conference Thursday that Chao's troubles are an example of why the union wants the NFL to set up a system to verify the credentials of all team medical personnel.

"The players of the National Football League deserve to have a doctor that's not been found liable of malpractice. And that's within the last year, by the way," Smith said.


As you may know, we here at BFTB were totally on board with this campaign and were disappointed to learn that an independent panel of three doctors ended up deeming Chao fit to continue on as the Chargers' doctor. Now, probably shouldn't mention my skepticism over a panel of doctors ever being truly independent and unbiased when they're dealing with one of their own. Whoops.

Anyway, this decision is more than questionable when you just view Chao's legal history in its totality. In the interest of full disclosure, when I started the research for this project I didn't know the rabbit hole I was venturing down into. In short, I have no clue how Chao still has a medical license, much less how he is still in Dean Spanos' good graces.

In addition, that "independent" panel of doctors should all have their medical licenses revoked. Allow me to show you what has me so upset:

A Timeline of Chaos

  • Chao pleads guilty to an alcohol related reckless driving charge.
  • Gary Losse, Chao's business partner, is fired as Chargers team physician amid allegations that he has a prescription drug addiction. Chao subsequently becomes Chargers doctor.
  • Former Chargers defensive back Mark Montreuil accuses Chao of condoning and facilitating Losse's drug use while Losse treated his knee injury. Montreuil would never play in the NFL again.
  • The state medical board fines Chao $1,000 for failing to maintain adequate and accurate records after allegations surfaced that Chao illegally wrote Losse prescriptions.

  • Former Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf sues Chao for alleged negligence in treating Leaf's wrist and shoulder injuries. Leaf would later drop his suit for unknown reasons.
  • Former Chargers linebacker Jon Haskins sues Chao for allegedly misdiagnosing a knee injury that ended Haskins' NFL career. Haskins dropped his suit suddenly on the eve of trial to take a college coaching job.
  • Abby Rueckert sues Chao, alleging he negligently severed her artery during surgery. A jury verdict awards her $460,000 in damages.
  • SeaWorld performer Jeff Warner reaches a settlement with Chao in his suit for alleged malpractice. Chao prescribed a medical device that caused Warner to develop non-freezing cold injury; Chao then misdiagnosed the injury, which nearly caused Warner to need a leg amputation.

  • Chao pleads guilty to a drunken driving charge and receives five years probation and a $1,800 fine.
  • Tom Fagan reaches a settlement with Chao for an undisclosed amount. Fagan accused Chao of carelessness in treatment after his leg needed to be amputated following a knee replacement surgery that Chao performed.
  • Federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents execute a search warrant on the Chargers facilities. Reports circulate that the investigation is due to suspicions that Chao has written himself at least 108 drug prescriptions since 2008. The investigation ended in 2012 without any sanctions or charges being issued. Note: One month prior to this investigation former Chargers defensive back Kevin Ellison was found in possession of a 100 Vicodins.
  • An arbitration panel awards Kathleen Adams $2,347,197 in her suit against Chao for malpractice. Adams needed emergency surgery after Chao lacerated her artery, vein and nerves during hip surgery.
  • NFLPA formally requests a review of Chao's qualifications. An independent panel of three doctors would later exonerate Chao.
  • The state medical board publicly reprimands Chao for not disclosing his prior incidents of drunken driving on his application to be licensed as a "qualified medical evaluator."

Now, if you needed surgery, would you even consider calling Dr. Chao up at this point to schedule an appointment? I would hope not, but if you're still on the fence, let me tell you the most damning story of them all.

The Polar Care 500 Incident

Whitney Engler, 15, underwent a minor procedure to clean debris from her knee in 2003. Following the successful surgery, Chao prescribed a mechanized cryotherapy device, the Polar Care 500, to aid Engler in her recovery. Chao advised her to use the device continuously and as much as possible. Unbeknownst to Engler, Chao and his clinic sold and rented the Polar Care 500 for profit and encouraged patients to use it as much as possible in order to maximize the profits. The problem is that when the device was used in this way it caused non-freezing cold injuries, which if misdiagnosed put the patient at risk of amputation. Whitney Engler suffered such an injury.

This wasn't the first such case for Chao. In 1998, he prescribed the same device to Jeff Warner, who suffered the same non-freezing cold injury as Engler. Chao repeatedly misdiagnosed Warner's injury and told him to continue to use the device. As a result, Warner nearly had to have his leg amputated. Now, it would be natural to believe that Chao would have learned from this incident and would have either recommended the device not be used in a continuous manner or at least would have been able to avoid misdiagnosing the injury in the future. Unfortunately, neither ended up being the case.

Chao made the same mistakes all over again. He told Engler to use the device continuously and when Engler started to show the same exact symptoms Warner exhibited, Chao once again misdiagnosed the injury and told Engler to continue to use the device. When Engler's injury progressively worsened exactly like Warner's did, Chao claimed to have never seen anything like it before. Engler would eventually learn of the incident involving Warner and file a malpractice suit.

In 2012, a jury verdict awarded Engler $5,696,220 against Chao.

Although he ended losing this battle, it wasn't for lack of effort. According to the Verdict Summary, Chao and his attorneys don't exactly play fair in court, which really shouldn't come as a complete shock to anyone at this point:

The [defendants] engaged in a number of ill-conceived strategies to derail the litigation, including hiding the location of witnesses, failing to produce witnesses, and engaging in a clandestine attempt to disqualify [Plaintiff's] counsel. In one such plot, they claimed that they dummied up a letter from Dr. Chao's attorneys, addressed to Dr. Chao, which contained incriminating information, with the idea that it would be leaked by someone to [Plaintiff's] counsel, and then they would be able to successfully move to have [Plaintiff's] counsel disqualified.

The Bottom Line

Whatever the reason Dean Spanos and the Chargers are reluctant to cut ties with Chao, they should really reevaluate if it's all worth it. If it really is because the players love him, then Dean Spanos really didn't learn his lesson from the final years of the Norv Turner Era, did he?

What if Chao's next screw up is with Philip Rivers? That would be quite the lesson, wouldn't it?

Say ciao to your much maligned team doctor, Dean, before something franchise-altering happens.