A private medical institution and a specialist doctor have been ordered to pay over $18 million in compensation to former finance minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira for their alleged negligence leading to her husband's death after a prostate operation in 2004.
Nunez-Tesheira yesterday won quite possibly the highest ever payout in a medical negligence case in T&T's history at the conclusion of an over decade-long legal battle with Gulf View Medical Centre and anaesthesiologist Dr Crisen Roopchand.
Although she scored the major legal victory after overcoming numerous hurdles, including the dismissal of the lawsuit at a preliminary stage, Nunez-Tesheira will have to wait some time before she can claim the significant sum, as both the institution and doctor have indicated their intention to appeal.
An emotional Nunez-Tesheira repeatedly broke down in tears, and had to be comforted by her two children, as High Court Judge Vasheist Kokaram read excerpts of his 91-page judgment in a small courtroom at the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.
Speaking afterwards, Nunez-Tesheira, currently a university lecturer, said her family was happy and relieved to finally get closure in the death of her husband, former Clico insurance executive Russell Tesheira.
"There is just a sense of relief that this has come to an end. Although there is a possibility of an appeal, it is a happy day and I am going to enjoy it," Nunez-Tesheira said.
In his analysis of the case, Kokaram identified Gulf View and Roopchand's lawyers' decision not to adduce their own evidence as a significant reason why their defence failed. He said as a result of the tactical manoeuvre, he was only able to assess the evidence of Nunez-Tesheira's witnesses in determining the case, as lawyers for Gulf View and Roopchand were unable to discredit them.
"Despite the rigorous cross-examination, their scientific knowledge was not questioned and they have sufficiently set out a reasonable body of medical opinion which suggests on a balance of probability that there was negligence on the part of both Gulf View and Dr Roopchand in the pre-operative and post-operative care of Mr Tesheira," Kokaram said.
As he left the court, an infuriated Roopchand criticised the judgment, as he suggested Kokaram over-stated the effect of the legal decision taken by Gulf View's renowned British medical negligence lawyer Mary O'Rourke, QC, who opted to make a no-case submission at the end of a week-long trial in December last year.
"Granted we chose to not say anything on the advice of our foreign attorneys, but this judge should seriously take a second look at this case," Roopchand said in a brief interview before he was led away by his team of local lawyers.
As he spoke generally of the role of negligence lawsuits in ensuring proper medical care for patients, Kokaram acknowledged that doctors were expected to perform "superhuman procedures and miracles" even in risky situations.
"Doctors faced with emergencies ordinarily will try their best to redeem the patient. However, they must, where it is within their power to do so, make reasonable attempts to prevent such emergencies from occurring in the first place," Kokaram said, as he suggested his judgment should not serve as a mental impediment to doctors when called upon to make "life and death decisions" in the future.
Kokaram also criticised the defendants' apparent lack of regret as shown by the allegedly "cold and unhelpful responses" Nunez-Tesheira received shortly after her husband's death.
Nunez-Tesheira was represented by Douglas Mendes, SC, Simon de la Bastide and Marcelle Ferdinand. Gulf View's legal team included Anand Beharrylal and Winston Seenath, while Roger Kawalsingh and Ravi Mungalsingh appeared for Roopchand.
About the Case
Insurance executive Russell Tesheira died at age 54 after undergoing an operation for transurethral resectioning of the prostate at the Gulf View Medical Centre on April 13, 2004.
During the procedure an instrument is inserted into the patient's urethra to remove the section of the prostate that is blocking urine flow. Two hours after the procedure, Tesheira was found to be bleeding excessively, prompting doctors to perform a secondary operation and emergency blood transfusion. Tesheira died on the operating table.
Six years later his widow, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, filed the lawsuit claiming her husband died because the hospital and the two doctors who did the procedure–anaesthesiologist Dr Crisen Jendra Roopchand and urologist Dr Lester Goetz–were negligent.
In 2011, Justice Vasheist Kokaram dismissed the lawsuit at a preliminary stage after Nunez-Tesheira failed to meet two successive deadlines he set for filing her evidence against the three parties.
While appealing the decision, Nunez-Tesheira came to an agreement with Goetz which saw him being removed from the lawsuit. Nunez-Tesheira eventually won in the Court of Appeal and the lawsuit was reinstated.
In assessing compensation for Tesheira's family, Kokaram considered the salary and benefits he would have accrued if he had continued to work at Clico, where his last bonus before his death was almost $4 million.
The effect of government's bailout of the cash-strapped insurance giant in 2009 did not have much bearing on the assessment, as Kokaram said he would have attained retirement age by then.