State's highest court rejects hospital's final appeal in birth injury case

Family of Jaylan Norfleet to get $20.6 million plus interest after birth injury.

With MedStar Harbor Hospital's last appeal to Maryland's highest court rejected, the family of a severely disabled Glen Burnie boy will get $20.6 million plus interest to provide for his care for the rest of his life.

The original verdict in Baltimore Circuit Court in 2012 was one of a pair of high-profile cases that prompted some hospitals and activists to pursue creation of a birth injury fund during the current legislative session to provide care to injured newborns without litigation and the high payouts that can come from court cases.

Opponents, including trial lawyers, say that would only protect bad doctors and programs and deny victims all the compensation they deserve.

"This was portrayed as a runaway jury verdict," said H. Briggs Bedigian, lawyer for the family of Jaylan Norfleet, born prematurely in 2002 with cerebral palsy that has left him significantly physically disabled. "But no one ever said he didn't need that much care."

Bedigian said Jaylan has had numerous surgeries and is now in school, but has limited use of his limbs. The boy's parents, Joel and Shantiah Norfleet, have struggled, working opposite shifts, to ensure that someone was available to care for him, he said.

The lawyer argued in court that Jaylan lost oxygen while still in his mother's womb and medical providers at the hospital failed to perform a cesarean section rather than allow a prolonged vaginal birth. The high court found no issues with the proceedings.

Bedigian also represented the family of a child born at John Hopkins Hospital who was awarded $55 million, a case that was overturned on appeal.

A spokeswoman for Harbor Hospital had no comment on the final appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals, denied in January, but hospital officials have said they believe Jaylan was given excellent care and did not believe the case had merit.

Others who support the birth injury fund say verdicts such as Jaylan's could threaten pregnant women's ability to get care.

"We should create a system that would pay families directly for these injuries and ensure the health and well-being of our children, rather than relying on a flawed fault-based system where it takes years to get compensation and some families get nothing at all," said Beth Laverick, volunteer president of the Maryland Maternity Access Coalition.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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