Biggest personal injury verdict awarded in Fresno County history

Thursday, June 7, 2018
Biggest personal injury verdict awarded in Fresno County history
Silvino Perez went into CRMC needing heart surgery in 2012 and he never really came out.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Fresno County jury ordered a heart doctor to pay a patient's family almost $56 million Monday for a botched surgery.

"To leave the hospital with your patient still in the operating room is just the worst of the worst of the worst," said Ricardo Echeverria, one of the attorneys representing Silvino Perez's family.

Legal experts say it's the largest personal injury verdict in Fresno County history.

Perez went into CRMC needing heart surgery in 2012 and he never really came out. Six years later, he hasn't woken up.

State investigators say the surgeon, Dr. Pervaiz Chaudhry, left before finishing the operation by closing the 70-year-old's chest.

"We were robbed of my dad, and my dad was robbed of his life," said Perez's stepson, Cris Arteaga, who filed a medical malpractice case against the doctor and the hospital.

Months later, the California Department of Public Health fined the hospital $175,000 without naming the patient, and Dr. Chaudhry still denied doing anything wrong in an interview with Action News.

"I completed the surgery," he told us in 2014. "I was in the operating room. Everything was done. Chest was closed."

"Oh my God, without the whistleblower, this case wouldn't have come about," Arteaga said.

Family members got a mysterious call after news reports about the fine telling them the stories were about Perez.

Hospital employee James Robillard tipped them off anonymously then, but he talked to us Monday about his role.

"I just could not see myself taking care of any more patients who were being harmed like this without saying something," he said.

Attorneys in the medical malpractice trial against Dr. Chaudhry say Robillard's testimony was critical in a jury awarding the family $55.6 million in general damages Monday.

"Hopefully this verdict sends a message to the medical community," said plaintiff's attorney Jeff Mitchell.

Jurors are still considering punitive damages against Dr. Chaudhry, but attorneys tell Action News they suspect they'll never get him to pay. His attorneys say the doctor now has a net worth of only $131,000 and he's out of the country, in Pakistan, where plaintiff's attorneys think he might just stay.

"This was the first of many cases against both him and the hospital," said plaintiff's attorney Steve Heimberg.

CRMC reached a settlement with Perez's family before this trial, but still faces at least five more lawsuits related to Dr. Chaudhry's performance.

And one more from the whistleblower.

"I lost my job after being there for over 30 years, and that was a huge blow," Robillard said.

The hospital fired Robillard, accusing him of violating patient privacy laws. He's scheduled to go to trial against them in August for wrongful termination.