$33 Million for Brain-Damaged Baby
Last month, a US District Court judge in Miami awarded $33.8 million to a family who claimed that a doctor employed by a federally qualified community health center made decisions that caused their baby boy to be born with irreversible brain damage, a story posted by Local 10 News (a Miami-Dade County ABC affiliate) reports.
As outlined in the judge's ruling, Marla Dixon had received prenatal care from the Jessie Trice Community Health Center, although she hadn't participated in formal prenatal education. On December 2, 2013, at approximately 1:00 AM, she went into labor and was taken to North Shore Medical Center, Miami. The community center doctor on call that evening was Ata Atogho, who issued orders that Dixon be admitted to the hospital, hooked up to a continuous external fetal monitor, and placed on a low-dose Pitocin regimen should her contractions become irregular. Dixon was also placed under the care of an experienced labor and delivery nurse.
Although the Pitocin regimen had been initiated, Dixon's labor continued uneventfully until the fetal heart monitor indicated a deceleration of the baby's heart rate. At this point, administration of the drug was halted, and the nurse assigned to Dixon notified Atogho "of the deceleration and the conditions indicating that the baby was ready to be delivered."
Once at his patient's bedside, Atogho noted that the baby had a category III heart rate indicative of hypoxia. Nevertheless, Atogho continued infusing Pitocin into Dixon, despite its contraindication in a baby with a "non-reassuring heart rate."
Dixon implored the doctor to perform a cesarean section. "Just cut me!" she said, according to both the nurse and the baby's father. But Atogho reportedly ignored her request, at one point leaving his patient for another delivery. Court documents also indicate that during this same period, he "also made an eight-minute phone call to his financial advisor."
When Dixon finally gave birth the following day, her baby wasn't breathing.
"At the anticipated, joyful moment of birth of a crying, bouncing baby, they [mother and father] are instead presented with the dreadful specter of a blue, floppy, lifeless child," the judge wrote in his order.
During the trial, medical experts from both parties to the case testified that a cesarean section could have prevented the baby's brain damage.
Under Florida law, noneconomic damages awarded to Medicaid patients—Dixon's source of insurance at the time of her delivery—are typically capped at $300,000 per claimant. Although Florida courts haven't ruled such caps unconstitutional, they have done so in non-Medicaid cases involving wrongful death and personal injury. Therefore, concluded the judge, "the Court determines that Florida courts would hold this subsection"—the one relating to Medicaid recipients—"unconstitutional as well. Therefore, the statutory caps do not apply."
Roughly two thirds of the $33.8 million award—$21.8 million, which is for the brain-injured child's future economic damages—will be paid in installments by the federal government. The judge ordered the rest to be paid "immediately."
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Cite this: Wayne J. Guglielmo. More States Limit Damage Awards - Medscape - May 16, 2017.