Fresno County jurors on Tuesday ordered surgeon Pervaiz Chaudhry to pay $12.39 million in punitive damages, bringing the total judgment to $68 million in a malpractice case in which a patient was left in a coma following a heart operation that ended badly.
The punitive damages, on top of the $55.6 million the jury awarded Monday to the male patient's family, is intended deter Chaudry's conduct for leaving the operating room while the man's chest remained open. The jury found Chaudhry's departure to be malicious, oppressive or fraudulent.
Chaudhry, 57, who was absent during most of his weeks-long civil trial, was not present when the verdict in the civil lawsuit was announced Monday in Judge Jeffrey Hamilton's courtroom. He is in Pakistan, where he has family, lawyers said.
The jury's award is one of the highest, if not the biggest, ever reached in Fresno Superior Court.
In 2011, a jury ordered two senior officers of a defunct northwest Fresno business and its subsidiaries to pay $46.5 million to more than 1,200 victims of an alleged Ponzi scheme. The victims — many of them from Fresno's Armenian-American community — won't ever get full restitution from HL Leasing Inc. and its subsidiaries Heritage Pacific Leasing and Air Fred LLC, lawyers said. The defendants don't have that much cash and the mastermind of the Ponzi scheme, John W. Otto, committed suicide in 2009.
In Chaudhry's trial, the jury award follows its ruling on March 1 that he was negligent for leaving the operating room and ordering his physician assistant, Bella Albakova — who happened to be his girlfriend at the time — to close the chest of 70-year-old Silvino Perez, a retired farm and packinghouse worker from Sanger.
While Chaudhry was headed to a business luncheon in northeast Fresno after the surgery in April 2012, Perez lost so much blood that his brain was starved of oxygen, causing him to go into a coma.