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Nearly $1 Million Is Awarded to Family in Wrongful Death Suit

August 19, 2000|ANNA GORMAN and MIKE MCCARTHY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After three weeks of deliberations, a Ventura County jury Friday awarded nearly $1 million to the family of a 25-year-old Simi Valley woman who died after cosmetic surgery two years ago.

The jury ordered Westlake Village physician Theodore Ross Corwin and PSP Surgical Facility to pay $911,373 to the family for the wrongful death of Tania Pfefferman.

Pfefferman died two weeks after receiving a breast augmentation and liposuction surgery in February 1998.

The jury determined both the doctor and the medical facility where he worked were negligent in caring for Pfefferman, and that the negligence led to her death.

The jury also ruled PSP Surgical Facility in Westlake Village was negligent in applying anesthesia, and that PSP did not properly train its personnel.

Corwin and PSP Surgical Facility were held equally liable for Pfefferman's death.

The plaintiff's attorney, Fred Bysshe, had argued Corwin did not respond to vital signs, indicating the patient's heart and lungs weren't operating normally during and after the surgery. Bysshe maintained Pfefferman died from a fatal dose of local anesthetics.

Bysshe said both he and the family were pleased with the verdict, which was read by Judge Kent Kellegrew.

"This case was truly never about money," he said. "It was about accountability. And we are very pleased that finally the jury made that determination that Dr. Corwin and PSP were responsible."

Several members of Pfefferman's family cried as they listened to the ruling.

"The whole situation is sad and tragic for the whole family and should have never happened," said the woman's aunt, Rochelle Calderone.

Bysshe added that Pfefferman thought the risks of plastic surgery were negligible, "as safe as a trip to the beauty salon."

"We hope this verdict will say to the public that plastic surgery has some significant risks," he said.

Defense attorney Jon Monroy said he is confident the decision won't affect his client's reputation. Corwin was out of the state Friday and unavailable for comment.

"He [Corwin] has been in business for 25 years without incident and has a high reputation," Monroy said.

Monroy said it was "too early to tell" whether he would appeal, pending post trial motions.

On Aug. 28, Judge Thomas J. Hutchins will review the verdict, and attorneys said they expect him to lower it to $750,000 based on guidelines on how much can be awarded in medical malpractice cases.

The trial lasted three months, with 30 witnesses and 200 exhibits. The jury began deliberating July 26, but had to start over this week after one juror fell ill and had to be replaced. The verdict came two days after the new juror began.

The verdict in the civil suit comes two years after Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury decided Corwin could not be held criminally liable for Pfefferman's death. The California Medical Board never took action against Corwin, according to his attorney.

The family initially filed suit against Corwin and a nurse, Lorie Salamati. Salamati settled with the family in April.

Pfefferman is survived by her husband and a young daughter.

Gorman is a Times staff writer; McCarthy is a Times Community News reporter.

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