But Irma had been meticulous with her daughter's medical documents. She'd kept the appointment card for their next visit, which wasn't until February 23.

Jurors awarded Irma $100,000 for economic loss, $400,000 for her daughter's pain and suffering, plus $7.5 million in punitive damages for Mercado's malpractice. "It's not covered by insurance," Judge Darrell Gavrin pointed out at trial. Gavrin has yet to make a final judgment on the total sum Mercado must pay.

It's unlikely that Mercado has to worry about a state sanction. Historically, the Department of Health has doled out punishment only once it recognizes a pattern of misbehavior or incompetence. (The department did not respond to interview requests.)

Ellen Weinstein
Claudialee Gomez-Nicanor wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up.
Courtesy Paul Hayt
Claudialee Gomez-Nicanor wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up.

"There are many physicians who have been sued and lost a malpractice case and are still practicing," says a New York government official who works closely with the medical industry and was not authorized to publicly discuss the subject. "The Office of Professional Medical Conduct will take a look at trends, as opposed to an isolated incident."

Staten Island cosmetic surgeon Robert Cattani, for instance, tallied 40 malpractice suits before the state revoked his medical license in September 2012. Another plastic surgeon in Brooklyn didn't lose his license until regulators found negligence on seven occasions.

Between 2001 and 2011, according to a USA Today investigation, of about 400 doctors who had their clinical privileges reduced or revoked by a medical institution in New York, more than half had never been assessed a single state penalty.

Mercado still runs a private practice. She still serves on the SUNY faculty. So it's understandable that she's reluctant to discuss the case. She stands at the door that separates the waiting area from the treatment rooms, holding it halfway closed like a reluctant homeowner talking to a salesman.

"I did my best for this patient," Mercado says. "I know in my heart that I did everything for this patient."

She declines to go into specifics or answer any questions.

"I'll just stay silent on this, because God knows best," she says, pointing to the ceiling with both index fingers.

Then she closes the door. Her afternoon schedule is full. There's a roomful of patients awaiting treatment.

asamaha@villagevoice.com

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