no retrial in ohio cerebral palsy case with significant verdict

A jury awarded a substantial verdict to the family of a 10-year-old girl who has cerebral palsy due to obstetric negligence. The $13.9 million judgment in the medical malpractice case was so high that the defendants asked for a retrial, arguing that the jury must have been unfairly swayed by their sympathy for the disabled girl. The judge has rejected their arguments and denied their petition.

The case involved a girl from rural Leavittsburg, Ohio, who was born at Forum Health Trumbull Memorial Hospital on January 4, 2000. Over the course of a 15-day trial, the family presented evidence that the pediatrician who delivered the girl failed to recognize signs of fetal distress and failed to perform a timely Cesarean section.

Instead, the baby was born vaginally and experienced neonatal asphyxia — oxygen deprivation during the birthing process — which damaged her brain. The anesthesiologist on hand attempted to resuscitate the baby just after her birth, but “botched” that intervention. The oxygen deprivation and the mismanaged resuscitation combined to bring about the girl’s cerebral palsy.

The family initially filed medical malpractice claims against the pediatrician, the anesthesiologist and their practice groups, as well as a hospital negligence claim against Forum Health. Just after the trial ended, the family settled their claims against the anesthesiologist, his practice, and the hospital for a total of $6.5 million. The $13.9 million jury award was against the pediatrician and her practice.

Defense Argues Sympathy for the Victim ‘Unduly Swayed’ the Jury

The pediatrician and her practice argued that the jury’s award was clearly excessive. They contended that, in order for a jury to return so large a judgment, its members must have been so overcome by their sympathy for the girl with cerebral palsy that they were unable to fairly evaluate the defendants’ responsibility.

Cerebral palsy is irreversible. The condition comes in several types and the level of disability varies in each person, but cerebral palsy is essentially brain injury that compromises one’s ability to control one’s own body. It can cause difficulty walking, using the arms and hands, controlling bodily functions and even swallowing. In some cases, it can lead to paralysis. It can cause seizures, learning disabilities, deficits in vision or hearing, and a host of other serious issues.

While cerebral palsy is not always the result of medical malpractice, when it is, the situation is particularly tragic. The child, afflicted by a preventable birth injury, will typically require a lifetime of care that could potentially be extremely expensive. Both the child and the family will be changed forever.

The anesthesiologist and hospital voluntarily settled their parts in the case for about half of what the jury held the pediatrician should be required to pay. Do you think the jury’s $13.9 million judgment was excessive? Or do you think the award was just, given the lifetime of expenses the family now faces?

Source: The Youngstown Vindicator, “Arguments rejected in malpractice case,” Ed Runyan, December 9, 2010

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