October 3, 2014
Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals upheld the $20.6 million that was awarded to the parents of a son who was born with severe complications at Baltimore’s MedStar Hospital, which led to his development of cerebral palsy.
According to the documents filed on Feb. 18, 2011, Shantiah and Joel Norfleet filed a birth injury lawsuit against MedStar Harbor Hospital on behalf of their son, Jaylan Norfleet. Shantia Norfleet, under her doctor’s recommendation, was admitted into the hospital while 32 weeks pregnant because she suffered from high blood pressure. However, during labor, Jaylan’s heart monitor indicated that he was extremely low on oxygen. This should have called for the doctor to schedule and perform an emergency cesarean section (C-section), yet Dr. Ward, the physician responsible for the delivery, allowed the labor to continue for another three hours.
When Jaylan was finally delivered, his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, resulting in oxygen deprivation. As a result, he developed a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic cerebral palsy, meaning that although he didn’t develop cognitive disabilities, he will always have to use a wheelchair and will have permanent difficulties with limb movements.
During the initial trial, experts on high-risk pregnancies testified that the doctor should have been aware of Jaylan’s vital signs during delivery and should have promptly scheduled and carried out a C-section. Yet, the hospital argued that there was no relationship between the delivery of Jaylan and his development of cerebral palsy. They also argued that the infant’s results after birth showed that he didn’t suffer from lack of oxygen. The jury, however, disagreed, after the overwhelming evidence presented by expert testimonies.
“Jaylan’s experts, each with decades of relevant professional experience, explained the sequence of events that deprived Jaylan of the reserves that normally protect fetuses during labor and left him vulnerable to the deprivation of oxygen that occurred shortly before his birth. Certainly, [the hospital’s] experts reached conflicting conclusions. The point, however was that there was sufficient evidence from [the Norfleets’] experts to make … the question of causation in fact an issue for the jury to decide,” wrote the presiding Judge Christopher B. Kehoe, in a 72-page unreported opinion.
Consequently, Circuit Judge John Philip Miller denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss, and mandated the hospital to appeal under the Court of Special Appeals . However, Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals upheld the Norfleet’s victory and allowed the $20.6 million verdict to remain. Initially, the Norfleet family was awarded $21 million in 2012, but since it went over Maryland’s cap law for non-economic damages, it was reduced to $20.6 million.
According to the Court of Special Appeals, the 3-0 decision, in favor of the Norfleet family, boiled down to “a classic battle of the experts,” in which the jury ultimately felt that the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses provided enough proof to hold MedStar Harbor Hospital responsible for Jayden’s health issues.
Harbor Hospital Inc. v. Norfleet, No. 1805 Sept. Term 2012