A judge recently upheld most of a jury’s $53 million medical malpractice verdict awarded to a woman and her 12-year-old son who was born with cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability.
Twelve years ago, the woman was about 40 weeks pregnant when she went to an Illinois hospital after experiencing decreased fetal movement from her unborn child. A first-year resident evaluated her immediately and determined the unborn child was in fetal distress. However, another 11 hours passed until the woman was seen by an obstetrician and an emergency C-section was performed. By that time, the damage had been done. The baby was born with brain damage, which was later diagnosed as severe cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder. He is now wheelchair bound and needs his mother to feed and clothe him.
The lawsuit alleged nearly 20 mishaps by doctors and nurses, including failure to:
- carefully monitor she and her baby,
- perform a timely C-section,
- follow a chain of command,
- obtain accurate cord blood gases,
- be aware of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns that indicated distress to the baby, including hypoxia, or a drop in the supply of oxygen.
The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding the largest verdict on record in the county. The defendant motioned for a new trial arguing that the conduct of the plaintiff’s attorney during trial was improper and tainted the resulting verdict. The hospital also alleged that both mother and child were treated for infection, which can cause cerebral palsy, and that the child never suffered oxygen deprivation as the plaintiff’s attorney stated. Six months later, the defendant was denied a new trial, but the judge reduced the verdict by $950,000 due to a “technical error.”
The plaintiffs were able to pursue litigation without reform, caps, or restrictions due to a 2010 Illinois Supreme Court decision that limits on damages awarded to victims of medical negligence were unconstitutional and violated the right to a trial by jury. The Court ruled that it is the exclusive role of the judge and jury to hear the facts and determine damages. The judge denied the defendants a new trial. This means justice has prevailed in this case, right? Not completely.
The plaintiffs were spared from additional suffering caused by tort reform, but the case still took 12 years to settle. Secondly, this is a verdict, not a settlement; this family has not collected a dime. Despite the judge’s decision to deny the defendants a new trial, the plaintiffs may wait even longer for compensation and justice they deserve if the hospital files an appeal. The same body of law that produced the $53 million verdict permits the doctor to appeal that verdict. An appeal would mean enduring the entire process a second time.
Consider the pain and suffering, the mental and emotional anguish the injured parties have endured. The law cannot give the child a ‘normal’ life. It can only offer compensation for lost earnings, medical expenses, disability, and pain and suffering. How much longer must this family suffer without compensation, without justice? I presume there is satisfaction with a hard-earned verdict, but when will this family finally have closure?
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.