April 21, 2011, ERIE, PA — Yesterday a jury returned the largest Erie County medical malpractice verdict ever. In Graham v. Hamot, et al., the jury determined that Hamot Hospital’s nursing staff carelessly caused a baby to suffer a brain injury known as cerebral palsy and awarded the child $21.6 million dollars in damages. The damages awarded are entirely for past and future medical expense and lost earning capacity.
The condition, a permanent and, in this case, profoundly disabling one, will cause little Ja’Kareon Graham to require lifelong and intensive nursing care. He is fed through a tube, cannot utter intelligible words and is impaired in processing visual images. The child’s lawyer wrote in the pre-trial memorandum that Ja’Kareon “…will never be a normal little boy. He will never play Little League or read a book. He will never have a girl-friend, go to a prom or graduate from high school. He will never walk or run.”
Cerebral palsy is an avoidable brain injury whose symptoms may include lost or impaired movement and cognitive dysfunction. The condition results from injury to the brain during birth. There are many potential causes of cerebral palsy, including the improper use of forceps; birth asphyxia; failure to detect fetal distress; and allowing the baby to remain for too long in the birth canal. The condition is not a progressive one but is permanent.
In the Graham case, the jury found that the nursing staff at Hamot failed to properly monitor fetal heart rates and other vital signs during Ja’Kareon’s birth. An emergency caesarean section was performed but it was too late for young Ja’Kareon, who had already suffered significant brain damage.
Hamot denied that it was responsible for the harm. Hamot also contested the baby’s damages, arguing (among other things) that the baby’s projected life span was actually much shorter because of his injuries and therefore the jury should not find that he really needed the full amount claimed for future medical care.
Aside from its size, the Erie birth injury verdict is noteworthy for the absence of any compensation for pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. While the jury found that Hamot was negligent and caused the baby to have a terrible injury and while the jury was willing to award sizeable compensation for past and future medical expense and future lost earnings, the jury also apparently found that the baby did not deserve a penny for the loss of the ordinary pleasures of life. The jury’s reasoning in this regard was not apparent from the verdict.
Also noteworthy is that Hamot allegedly made no offer of settlement in the Pennsylvania birth injury case prior to trial. This is increasingly typical in Pennsylvania medical malpractice cases. Even in cases where the defendant hospital is at-fault and even when the harm is great, medical malpractice defendants play hard-ball to the very end. This deny, delay and defend at all costs approach makes it difficult and sometimes impossible for injured patients to obtain justice. In a case like this one, it caused the injured baby and his parents to engage in an uncertain, stressful and costly process that took 4 1/2 years from the time of the injury before they finally got a penny of compensation for his harm.
Congratulations to lawyer Shanin Specter, who represented Ja’Kareon and his parents in this Erie cerebral palsy case.
We Want To Help
If your child has suffered a birth injury in northwest Pennsylvania, we’d like to know about it. If our investigation reveals that the injury was avoidable and was caused by medical negligence or carelessness, we’ll help you and your child to get the compensation the law requires. For a free consultation with an Erie birth injury lawyer, call toll free 814-273-2010 or locally at 814-273-2010.