When a pregnant Erica Byrom arrived at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center nearly five years ago, doctors had alarming news.
The 16-year-old mother had dangerously high blood pressure from preeclampsia and said doctors told her that her baby would die or suffer brain damage. Facing that prognosis — which Byrom’s attorneys would later call mistaken — the teen decided to forgo a cesarean section, resulting in lasting brain injuries to her daughter.
A Baltimore jury awarded Byrom and her daughter, Zubida, $229.6 million Monday in what her attorneys say is the largest medical malpractice verdict ever awarded in the United States. State laws to cap malpractice verdicts will likely reduce the amount to just over $200 million — still a record sum, said Mary Koch, her attorney.
“We are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration,” Koch said. “The verdict of the jury insures that Zubida will receive the care and treatment she needs and deserves for the rest of her life."
Zubida’s brain was damaged by a lack of oxygen during the delivery. The Prince George’s County girl has cerebral palsy, a neurological disability that can affect muscle control throughout the body, and requires round-the-clock care.
“Our hearts go out to this child and her family,” said Kim Hoppe, a Hopkins spokeswoman.
In an email Tuesday, she wrote that federal privacy laws prohibit hospital officials from discussing the case in detail.
“We are confident in the care this patient received and have provided ample documentation clearly demonstrating that we appropriately informed her multiple times of all of the risks associated with her condition,” Hoppe wrote. “The verdict was not supported by the evidence.”
She said Hopkins would appeal the verdict.
The award of more than $200 million vastly exceeds the region’s biggest malpractice verdicts in recent years.
In 2012, a Baltimore jury awarded $21 million to a Glen Burnie couple whose son was born prematurely at Harbor Hospital. In their lawsuit, the boy’s parents said their son lost oxygen while in the womb and doctors should have performed a C-section rather than allow a prolonged vaginal birth. The boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Just one month earlier in 2012, a city jury awarded $55 million to a Baltimore couple whose son was born at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The family also alleged their son lost oxygen in the womb and doctors should have performed a C-section sooner. This child, too, has cerebral palsy. At the time, the $55 million was among the largest medical malpractice verdicts in state history.
Meanwhile, last August, a jury in Santa Fe, New Mexico, awarded $73.2 million to a woman who sued, claiming doctors’ negligence left her son stuck in her birth canal and without oxygen for several minutes, according to a report in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Maryland lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed bills that would require doctors, hospital and insurers to pay into a state fund for families whose children suffer such brain damage at birth. Proponents have argued a fund would help control medical malpractice costs and bring resolution to families without prolonged legal fights.
In Erica Byrom’s lawsuit, the trial lasted two weeks in Baltimore Circuit Court. Hopkins attorneys argued the doctors were not negligent, saying the child’s injuries happened after labor started and that Byrom refused a C-section.
“Defendant [Hopkins] was prevented from performing a c-section and the injury occurred after plaintiff tied defendant’s proverbial hands with regard to the method of delivery that could be performed,” the attorneys wrote in court records.
Byrom was admitted to Hopkins Bayview in October 2014 with severe preeclampsia, a condition of pregnancy that can cause complications for mothers and babies, such as seizures and premature birth. Her condition only worsened. At 25 weeks of pregnancy, her baby was viable outside the womb and doctors induced labor.
“The safest option for Ms. Byrom and her baby was delivery by cesarean section,” her attorney wrote.
Doctors told her the baby would die or suffer brain damage, her attorney said.
“Because of this information, she declined a cesarean section,” Koch said. “Her baby was born two days later with a hypoxic brain injury which caused cerebral palsy.”
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Byrom declined through her attorney to answer questions.