The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed this week a $4.1 million verdict (reduced to $3.6 million by the cap) in a medical malpractice, birth injury case against the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore City.
No one would disagree that the facts of the case are tragic. The plaintiff, now a second grader, was born at 26 weeks of pregnancy. While the child has made unbelievable strides in recent years – and will continue to with God’s Grace – he still cannot run. His IQ is currently in the 80s. Doctors at the trial testified that he will more likely than not be a “disabled worker” when he reaches 18, making his job prospects poor. It is an awful thing. Hopefully, his recovery continues to push him forward and he proves these predictions wrong (I realize I said this already).
Plaintiffs (mom and child) claim this was the result of mistakes made during the delivery. Specifically, plaintiffs’ malpractice lawyer argued that the standard of care called for a c-section, and the failure to perform a c-section caused the delay in birth that led to oxygen deprivation. Plaintiffs’ also claimed that the mother had an infection that required immediate delivery of the fetus. The hospital denied negligence and argued that the cause of the child’s injuries was not negligence, but the fact that child was born 14 weeks early.
The latter argument is compelling because it is impossible to argue that children born this premature are at risk for severe developmental delays like this child has suffered (and worse). (They also made the argument that I would be looking to buy if I were a juror: he is doing well in school.) But this really minimizes what that child has and will endure. He was in a wheelchair as a child and did not learn to walk – with braces – until he was 3½-years-old. He goes to regular school but is assisted by a full-time aide assigned to him. Defense lawyers have to make their arguments in case they get lucky and someone is buying. But this one had little chance of success.
A Baltimore City jury agreed with the plaintiffs. The hospital’s lawyers appealed finding the plaintiffs’ six experts did not make their case. They also argued that his lost wage claim was really due to his premature birth. Both of these arguments are really the same argument. The Court of Special Appeals disagreed, finding there was sufficient evidence presented at trial to support the jury’s finding. The court also found that the University of Maryland Medical System’s lawyers failed to raise the issue of future lost wages and, accordingly, waived the right to contest the lost wage on appeal. (In their defense, again, it really is making the same argument twice. The court was not going to maintain the verdict but find the lost wages were not supported by these arguments.)
You can read Judge Deborah Eyler’s opinion here.