Last week, a jury awarded a mother whose baby suffered a brain injury during birth at Johns Hopkins Bayview $229 million — a record sum, her lawyers said.
The baby, who is now 4-years-old, has brain damage due to a lack of oxygen during her delivery. She has cerebral palsy, uses a feeding tube and requires 24/7 care.
Although Maryland laws meant to cap malpractice awards will likely reduce the total to about $200 million, the jury’s verdict is among the largest in U.S. history.
Here’s a look at five similar big medical malpractice cases in recent years. Damages totals are often reduced later on, legal experts say.
Cerebral palsy case in Oakland County, Michigan
A Michigan mother and her child were awarded $130 million in damages in September after her son developed cerebral palsy following a procedure at Beaumont Hospital’s Royal Oak facility.
Two-month-old Vinh Tran had been diagnosed with a urological condition characterized by mild swelling of his kidneys when he went to the hospital for a renal scan in March 2006, according to his family’s complaint.
Shortly after staff inserted an IV, the boy’s condition “changed dramatically,” the family’s lawyer told the Detroit Free-Press. The boy’s mother tried to report that the child was turning blue, but staff didn’t immediately call a code blue or provide chest compressions, said the lawyer, Brian McKeen. They did, however, administer rescue breaths.
The lack of oxygen flowing to his brain resulted in cerebral palsy, and Tran now requires full-time care from his mother, the Free-Press reported.
“Nothing will ease the suffering of this child, but at least this settlement will alleviate some of the financial burden from his caretakers,” McKeen said in a news release at the time. “I’m grateful for the jurors’ service and gratified they agreed that this was a preventable tragedy."
The hospital stood by the care it provided and vowed to appeal the verdict.
Brain damage case in Santa Fe, New Mexico
A Lea County, New Mexico mother and child were awarded $73 million in damages last August after her son’s birth left him with permanent brain damage and without the use of his right hand.
The jury found that their doctor at a Pecos Valley clinic did not aptly prepare for the possibility that, due to the mother’s age and diabetes, she would give birth to an unusually large child, nor did he recommend a cesarean section. He estimated that the child, Jonathan Botellos, weighed 8 pounds prior to labor. The baby was born weighing 11 pounds, the lawsuit states.
The baby’s shoulders got stuck in the birth canal, rendering him unable to breath for 10 minutes, until he was forcibly vacuumed out, ripping apart nerves that controlled his right arm, and injuring his mother.
“The jury was angry,” said the family’s lawyer Kent Buckingham. “This verdict, to me, represents the power of a jury. They will effect change by their vote here, by their award. That will get the attention of every health care provider in New Mexico and, actually, across the country.”
Amputation case in North Providence, Rhode Island
A jury awarded Peter Sfameni $62 million in damages in September 2017, including interest, after severe blood clotting caused him to lose his right leg.
Doctors at Rhode Island Hospital recommended he stop taking blood thinners for his genetic blood-clotting disorder after the 55-year-old reported back pain, fatigue and weight loss. They planned to conduct a colonoscopy to determine whether he had lymphoma.
Ten days after he stopped taking the medication, he was admitted to the hospital again due to excessive blood clotting. One doctor recommended he resume taking the blood thinners, but that order was cancelled, and Sfameni’s doctors discharged him, urging him to wait to take the medicine again until after a lymph-node biopsy could be performed about a week later.
Ultimately, the clotting resulted in the amputation of his right leg.
“Rhode Island Hospital is disappointed in Thursday’s ruling,” Christina Spaight O’Reilly, a spokeswoman for the hospital, told the Providence Journal. “The hospital strongly believes our physicians made the appropriate clinical decision after careful consideration of the patient’s condition and medical history. Rhode Island Hospital’s attorneys are currently evaluating all methods of post-trial relief.”
Brain damage case in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
A Chambersburg, Pennsylvania family received $42 million in damages after their son was delivered with forceps applied to his skull, fracturing it and causing brain bleeds.
The boy, who was born at the federally funded Keystone Women’s Health Center, is expected to endure a lifetime of physical and intellectual disabilities.
The federal government ultimately revoked their appeal, meaning the parents, Christina Late and Nathan Armolt, received the damage payment, Public Opinion reported in February 2018.
Cerebral palsy case in Baltimore
In June 2012, a jury determined Hopkins should pay $55 million to a Baltimore couple, Rebecca Fielding and Enso Martinez, who had to wait two hours for an urgent c-section.
Their verdict was overturned after Hopkins sought a new trial that would involve testimony about the role a midwife may have played in the baby’s injuries.
Fielding had opted for an at-home birth with a midwife, but was transported to the Baltimore hospital after complications there. The hospital alleged that the boy’s brain injury, which caused cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder, occurred prior to his arrival at Hopkins.