The most similar case to the current one involved Dr. Roy Kerry, who was charged with the death of a 5-year-old child with autism named Abubakar Tariq Nadama. He received chelation treatment in Kerry's office. Kerry voluntarily surrendered his medical license in 2008. While the charges were eventually dropped, the state medical board suspended his license for six months, with two and a half years of probation in 2009.
But while this case might be different, Offit does not believe it will make a difference in how doctors providing questionable autism treatments are perceived.
"I don't think it will have much of an impact at all, because it's a big business," he said. "False hope, to many people, is better than no hope."
Dr. Stephen Barrett, who is acquainted with the case documents, said that while he hears from parents who believe they have been deceived by providers of alternative autism treatments. "This is the first time a parent has had the fortitude to do something about it."
Barrett, a retired psychiatrist, operates the Web site quackwatch.org.
Barrett said he hopes the Coman case will discredit the urine toxic metal test -- a test used by some doctors who use chelation therapy on patients with autism.
For this test, patients are given a chelating agent, a chemical that binds to metals in the body and then is excreted in urine. Barrett points out that this leads to unusually high levels of metal in the urine, since they have been drawn out by the chelating agent.
Barrett said the test often gives a false impression that there are toxic levels of metal in patients who do not have it.
"They should just chelate everybody who comes in the door, because that's what they try anyway," Barrett said.
Wax, the Texas toxicologist, said many labs use chelation improperly, "Chelation can be dangerous if it's not used in the right circumstances," he said. "Since there's no scientific justification for it… my group really frowns upon the use of chelation in this setting."
For his part, James Coman said he hopes his suit helps other parents of children with autism.
"I hope to make it very, very expensive to do this kind of quackery, because it is predatory and it's fraudulent and it needs to stop," he said.
"There is a reason why most doctors won't do this, and I realize that people are desperate to do something, and that they definitely feel good about doing these things, and I also understand that children get better, but children do get better with age. That doesn't mean they're cured and there's no way to know if the doctors doing these things are what's causing this improvements."
Coman added, "Parents should be very wary of anyone who says they can cure an incurable disease."
Ki Mae Heussner and information specialist Carolyn Weddell contributed to this report.