CINCINNATI – A patient of Dr. Atiq Durrani was awarded $1.04 million Tuesday in the first of hundreds of malpractice suits against the indicted Mason spine surgeon to go to trial.
A Hamilton County jury awarded Crystal Pierce, a 33-year-old mother of two from Green Township:
> $500,000 for pain and suffering,
> $40,000 for lost wages,
> $500,000 in punitive damages.
Because of Ohio law limits, the most she could collect is $790,000, according to her attorney, Eric Deters.
Durrani will also have to pay for attorney fees and costs, Deters said.
"This was a huge victory," said Deters, who has already filed about 175 malpractice suits on behalf of Durrani patients and said he plans to file at least 220 more by the end of February.
Deters said he believes there is a potential payout of $71 million in insurance covering Durrani and the practice he owned, Centers for Advanced Spine Technology, in Evendale and Florence.
Pierce, who sat still during the seven-day trial because she said she suffers debilitating pain and permanent injury from Durrani's surgery, cried when she heard the bailiff read the decision.
"Honestly, I don't think I heard the amount at first," Pierce said. "I was just happy to have justice. I hope the others will get justice, too."
The jury apparently believed Pierce when she testified that Durrani scared her into surgery by telling her she would be "paralyzed" without it.
The jury wrote "scare tactics" on the paper where they recorded and explained their findings, Deters said.
Durrani's attorney, Michael Lyon, said he probably would appeal.
Durrani has closed his CAST practice and is making arrangements to send records to patients, Lyon said.
Durrani did not appear at the trial - he fled to his native Pakistan in December, Lyon said.
By judge’s order, the jury was never told that Durrani skipped the country. The jury was only told that Durrani elected not to testify.
Besides all the civil suits, Durrani faces a 36-count federal indictment and lost his licenses in Ohio and Kentucky in November. His criminal trial is scheduled to begin in August.
The government and his patients claim Durrani performed hundreds of unnecessary surgeries between 2008 and 2013 and botched many of them, leaving some patients in worse condition. The government also charged Durrani with billing insurers millions of dollars for fraudulent services.
The eight-member jury found for Pierce in three of the four claims in her suit:
➢ Negligence, based on accusations that Durrani violated the standard of care during her surgery on Jan. 30, 2009.
➢ Lack of informed consent. Deters said Durrani operated beyond Pierce’s consent and that she never agreed to his use of BMP-2, a bone-growth hormone. The North American Spine Society had warned spine doctors not to use it in surgeries like Pierce’s, a witness for Pierce testified. Since then, some studies suggested it could lead to increased risk of cancer.
➢ Fraudulent misrepresentation, based on the claim that she could be paralyzed if she didn't have the surgery.
The jury did not accept the fourth claim of battery. Deters argued that Durrani’s surgery amounted to intentional, unconsented contact.
It took six of the eight jurors to reach a finding. The jury deliberated for about five hours over two days.
Durrani gave a deposition to Deters on Nov. 29, 2011 and denied telling Pierce she would be paralyzed. Durrani insisted he performed the surgery correctly and his attorney produced an expert witness who testified to that at the trial.
But the jury believed Pierce and her expert witness, a St. Louis spine surgeon who said Durrani botched the surgery.
Durrani "malpositioned" five plates and at least 10 screws, causing pressure around Pierce's spinal cord, Dr. Keith Wilkey testified.
Deters praised Pierce for her bravery in pursuing a judgment through all her pain and financial hardships for five years after surgery.
"Crystal is an example for the others," Deters said.
Pierce said she is undergoing pain management and hopes that someday she will find relief, if not a cure.
"Right now no one has offered help to repair the damage he did," Pierce said. "I'm holding out hope."
Deters said the U.S. Attorney's arrest warrant for Durrani has been expanded to an international arrest warrant.
"If he travels anywhere in the world, the authorities can nab him," Deters said.
The federal charges against Durrani carry a potential prison sentence of up to 125 years.
"Now comes the tsunami," one of Deters' staffers told WCPO. He was referring to other patients who likely will take note of Pierce's successful outcome and sign up with Deters.
"We got two more clients today. Two people came up on the courthouse steps," the staffer said.