By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun
9:54 PM EDT, July 31, 2012
For the second time this summer, a local family has been awarded a huge sum of money by a Baltimore jury after claiming that negligent care by a local hospital caused their child to be born with a disability.
A jury Tuesday awarded $21 million to a Glen Burnie couple whose son was born prematurely with cerebral palsy at Harbor Hospital in 2002, and is now, at age 9, "literally trapped inside his body" with a fully functioning mind but a severely disabled body, according to a family attorney.
In the lawsuit, the family claimed the boy, Jaylan Norfleet, lost oxygen while still in his mother's womb and that medical providers at the hospital should have performed a Caesarean section rather than allowed a prolonged vaginal birth.
In a similar case in June, one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in state history was handed down when a city jury awarded $55 million to a Baltimore couple whose son was born with cerebral palsy at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2010. That family similarly claimed that their son had lost oxygen while still in his mother's womb and that Hopkins medical staff should have performed a Caesarean section sooner than they did.
While the family's attorneys lauded Tuesday's verdict as a just outcome that will make Jaylan's ongoing medical costs affordable, a hospital spokeswoman said she couldn't understand how the verdict was reached, given the facts. A defense attorney said the verdict — on the heels of the Hopkins verdict — threatens all hospitals that deliver babies in the city, and that he was considering an appeal.
Both families were represented by attorneys with Pikesville-based law firm Wais, Vogelstein & Bedigian, who said Tuesday they were happy for another win.
"We are just thrilled that this verdict is going to be able to take care of Jaylan for the rest of his life," attorney Gary Wais said.
Jaylan attends Park Elementary School in Anne Arundel County and lives with his parents, Joel and Shantiah Norfleet, in Glen Burnie, said H. Briggs Bedigian, Wais' partner.
While Jaylan is "cognitively and mentally fine," Bedigian said, he has very limited use of his legs and trouble completing specific tasks with his hands, such as writing.
Debra Schindler, a spokeswoman for Harbor operator MedStar Health, said the hospital feels for Jaylan but was "very disappointed" with the jury's verdict.
"Given the clear clinical facts and the excellent care provided by our physicians and nurses, we cannot understand how they could reach a verdict like this," Schindler said.
Ultrasounds showed no brain swelling after the birth, which oxygen deprivation would have caused, said John Fitzpatrick, an attorney for MedStar with Colorado-based Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell. Tests of Jaylan's blood acids also showed no signs of deprivation and his symptoms can be explained entirely by his premature status, he said.
The jury just "didn't care about the evidence," Fitzpatrick said.
The award "does not bode well for obstetricians continuing to practice" in Baltimore, said Joe Farchione, Fitzpatrick's partner.
Jaylan's family was awarded $18 million for his medical care, $2 million for lost potential wages, and $1 million for noneconomic pain and suffering. If the verdict doesn't fall on appeal, the family will likely receive $20.62 million because of a cap on noneconomic damages, Bedigian said.
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