Neurosurgeon Featured in TikTok Ad Blitz Plagued By Medical Malpractice Suit

Dr. Brian Hoeflinger says Chinese-owned app 'has the power to change society'

Dr. Brian Hoeflinger (Facebook)
March 13, 2024

The Ohio neurosurgeon featured in a TikTok ad campaign intended to drum up support for the Chinese-owned app as lawmakers consider a bill that would ban TikTok in the U.S. unless its corporate owner, ByteDance, divests from the company, casts himself on TikTok as a humble doctor hoping to inspire viewers with his "personal journey."

Not mentioned in the advertisements or on Dr. Brian Hoeflinger’s TikTok page, where he has amassed more than 500,0000 followers, is the malpractice lawsuit he settled in 2022, which alleged he provided negligent post-operative care that led to the death of a 60-year-old patient.

The suit, filed by the widow of one of Hoeflinger's patients, Janelle DeFelice, whose husband, Danny, died in 2018. DeFelice alleged that Hoeflinger and other defendants "were negligent and departed from the accepted standards of medical care in providing post-operative monitoring, care, and treatment." While Hoeflinger denied the allegations, he and his co-defendants settled the case in December 2022, according to court records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Now, TikTok is featuring Hoeflinger in an ad campaign dubbed "TikTok Sparks Good," which highlights particular users in an attempt to demonstrate TikTok's "lasting positive impact on local and global communities." TikTok also ran the ads during last year's Republican presidential debates, during which some candidates vowed to ban the app over national security concerns and argued that it promotes anti-Semitic content.

Neither TikTok nor Hoeflinger responded to requests for comment on the settlement and whether Hoeflinger was paid to appear in the ad.

The revelation of his malpractice settlement comes as TikTok’s public relations tactics have raised eyebrows. An ad blitz last week prompting users to enter their zip codes and call their congressmen led to an influx of phone calls to congressional offices as teenagers threatened to commit suicide if the app was banned.

It was a part of the company’s attempt to beat back a bipartisan bill that would force its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest from TikTok or face a ban in the United States. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed that bill unanimously on Thursday, just days after its introduction. While the notifications TikTok sent users say the bill would ban TikTok outright, the app can continue to operate should ByteDance—a company with deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party—divest from the app. But CCP officials have argued that ByteDance cannot divest.

"I support TikTok's tough response," said Hu Xijin, former editor in chief and CCP committee secretary of the Chinese government-run Global Times. "Either it is ByteDance's TikTok, or the US government might as well shut it down."

"TikTok doesn’t just stay still and wait for death," another state-owned site wrote Friday. "It has mobilised its users to fight back"

TikTok’s aggressive ad campaign angered lawmakers, one of whom cited the offensive as proof that ByteDance "weaponized the app against America."

Hoeflinger, who has worked as a surgeon in the Toledo area since 2004, faced two other medical malpractice suits in 2004 and 2012, respectively. In both cases, the plaintiffs dismissed their claims. It's unclear whether any settlements preceded those dismissals—in the latter case, the plaintiffs dismissed their claims against Hoeflinger two months before they dismissed their claims against the remaining defendants, court records show.

The full House is set to vote on the TikTok bill Wednesday morning. It will do so under "suspension of the rules," meaning two-thirds of the lower chamber's members must support it for it to pass.

Should the House pass the bill, it could face an uphill battle in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has not committed to raise the legislation for a vote, and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) wants to water down the House version of the bill.

President Joe Biden, however, said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

"If they pass it, I’ll sign it," Biden said Friday.