A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury awarded $75,000 in damages yesterday to a Reston woman who claimed she was left sterile as the result of an operation performed by fugitive Northern Virginia gynecologist Dr. Chris Simopoulos.
Winning the malpractice award, however, may prove the beginning of the woman's battle.
Attorneys said collecting the damages from Simopoulos, believed to be avoiding U.S. authorities in Greece, or his insurance company could be extremely difficult.
Simopoulos, the 47-year-old abortion clinic owner indicted in Norfolk last September for allegedly performing abortion procedures on women who were not pregnant, did not assist the insurance company in his defense.
William Dolan, a lawyer for Kathleen Powers, who filed the lawsuit, said it was likely the insurance company would refuse to pay the award, invoking a "non-cooperation clause" that requires any sued physician to assist in the defense of any malpratice claim. That could force yet another lawsuit over the issue, he said yesterday.
The three-day trial over Powers' $1 million claim went forward this week with Simopoulos' attorney defending and explaining the doctor's actions to the jury without being able to call the doctor as a witness on his own behalf. The five-woman, two-man jury, which deliberated nearly 10 hours over two days, was told only that Simopoulos, who disappeared in September, would not be present during the trial.
Simopoulos, who once lived in Fairfax Station and owned clinics in Falls Church and Norfolk, was convicted in Fairfax in 1980 of performing an illegal abortion and temporarily stripped of his medical license.
Powers and Dolan said they were satisfied with the award, although their suit asked for $1 million, the maximum allowed under Virginia law.
Because Simopoulos disappeared shortly after Powers' suit was filed, his defense was prepared by an attorney who said he had never met or spoken to him.
Gary Godard, who represented Simopoulos, said he was paid by the insurance company, which he declined to name. He was not present when the jury returned its verdict yesterday and earlier this week he declined to say whether the company would pay any judgment or would invoke the non-cooperation clause.
Powers, 34, who first went to Simopoulos in December 1982, contended he punctured her uterus during a routine procedure. As a result of two subsequent operations, one of them an emergency procedure to repair the tear, her uterus was completely removed, leaving her sterile.
Godard told the jury Simopoulos acted properly and that he did not puncture Powers' uterus, but that her complications arose from earlier medical problems.
Powers testified she and her husband had intended to have children prior to her becoming sterile, and since then have sought to adopt children. It was the "loss of this woman's right to choose" whether to have children that Dolan emphasized repeatedly in his final remarks to the jury.