NEW PORT RICHEY — Dr. Gunwant Dhaliwal suffered another defeat in court Wednesday when a civil jury decided he groped a woman who was newly hired at his walk-in clinic in 2007.
Danielle Turner, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, kept a stoic expression and nodded her head when the jury verdict was read after a little less than two hours of deliberation.
The six-member jury awarded her $120,000 in damages for past and future pain and suffering, mental anguish and inconvenience. The panel will return today to consider punitive damages against Dhaliwal.
Turner, 34, is a physician's assistant who was going to work at Dhaliwal's Gulf View Walk-In Clinic in February 2007. One night after hours, she said, she went to the clinic so Dhaliwal could demonstrate the skin treatment microdermabrasion on her. After he finished, she said, he applied lotion to her face, then slipped his hands down her shirt and grabbed her breasts.
"At first, it was disbelief at what was going on, and then it was fear," Turner testified about what was going through her mind. "My biggest fear was the office was closed and I was alone with this man who, obviously there was something wrong with him. I didn't know what was coming next."
Dhaliwal, 50, said the incident never happened. He said Turner came to the office that evening, he met her in the lobby, and they talked for a few minutes about her job. His microdermabrasion machine, he said, hadn't been used in at least five years.
Dhaliwal still faces a criminal charge of battery against Turner. That case is set for trial Oct. 3.
In May, he was convicted in criminal court of groping another woman who was a patient at his clinic. Marissa White saw him after a car accident when she was experiencing pain in her left side.
White said Dhaliwal pushed her back on the exam table, lifted her shirt and grabbed her breasts. Dhaliwal was sentenced to 10 days in jail, but he has not served that jail time while he appeals the conviction.
White also is pursuing a civil case against him.
In the closing arguments in Wednesday's civil trial, Turner's attorney, Scott Borders, told jurors that one piece of evidence stood out from the rest. That was the victim advocate at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office who saw Turner the day after the alleged assault.
She recalled Turner having a red face — a result of the skin treatment that scrubs off the top layer of the patient's skin.
" 'Her face was red. Not red like a sunburn, but red, like scrubbed red. Raw red,' " Borders recalled the advocate testifying. "That's the end of the argument right there. That takes it to the clear and convincing level."
The deputy who took Turner's report that day didn't remember anything about her skin's appearance. But she said Turner was "visibly shaken."
The jury also heard about other women who made similar accusations against Dhaliwal, who is married with two children. The claims were either dismissed or not pursued.
Morris Purcell, Dhaliwal's attorney, said those issues were just a distraction, and he urged the jury to see the case for what it was: a he said-she said.
"At the end of the day, only two people know what happened," he said. "This is really just her word against his."
Turner, he said, had failed to meet the burden of proof.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mollymoorhead.