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Woman Can Seek More Than $20M In Damages In Lawsuit Over Drunken Hospital Photos

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Cook County judge has given attorneys permission to seek hefty punitive damages in a lawsuit accusing a Northwestern Memorial Hospital doctor of posting photos of a drunken patient online.

Elena Chernyakova, a former Northwestern University student, was admitted to Northwestern Memorial in June 2013, after an episode of binge drinking.

According to a lawsuit she filed against the hospital and Dr. Vinaya Puppala, the doctor came into her room and took pictures of her crying while hooked up to an IV. Puppala then allegedly posted the photos on Facebook and Instagram without her permission, along with comments on her condition.

"What you can see is her looking very uncomfortable. She's trying to avoid it. She doesn't want her picture taken," said her attorney, Joel Brodsky.


Chernyakova has said the photos could ruin her career prospects. The lawsuit claims she has the potential to one day work for a Fortune 500 company, but might not get hired due to the pictures.

A judge has decided, if Chernyakova – an actress, model, and former tennis player from Russia – succeeds in her lawsuit against Puppala and the hospital, she can pursue punitive damages in excess of $20 million.

"A decision that we had a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial," Brodsky said.

The complaint is not kind to Puppala, including quotes from other physicians' evaluations, such as one saying he treats patients "like goats."

The suit alleges Puppala was not involved in her treatment, but knew her through a mutual friend, and ignored an order from hospital security to delete the photos.

The case was expected to go to trial next year.

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