Birth Injury Verdict Upheld; Georgia Mom Wins $13.9M

December 19, 2014

A verdict was rendered this week in a Gwinnet County, Georgia birth injury trial. Melissa Dempsey was awarded $13.9 million for the injuries caused to her infant girl, who now lives with severe health conditions.

According to court documents, Dempsey gave birth to her daughter at the Gwinnet Medical Center. During labor, however, the attending nurses failed to correctly read and interpret the fetal monitor’s vital stats and information. Consequently, the infant experienced severe oxygen deprivation during the labor process. As a result, she now lives with a host of medical problems, including seizures, cerebral palsy, and extensive brain damage. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, had an emergency C-section been scheduled and carried out, the infant would have never developed the medical issues.

Defense Appeals

After Dempsey won her trial, the defendants’ attorney appealed the decision, based upon the testimony of certified midwife, Colleen Mannering, who testified on behalf of the plaintiff. Mannering was not present during the delivery and birth, so the defense attorney argued that she is not a viable witness. As a result, the defense filed a new trial, yet Dempsey appealed the request. The case was then sent to the Georgia Court of Appeals to determine if the midwife’s testimony should stand. A 4-3 decision decided that it should.

According to Judge John Ellington, since Mannering is also a nurse, and the fact that both nurses and midwives are overseen by the Georgia Board of Nursing, her testimony should be valid. In addition, Mannering possesses over two decades of experience in the labor and delivery field.

Georgia law on licensing states that anyone who possesses a midwife’s license must also have in-depth, extensive training in their field. In addition, the Georgia statute doesn’t have a separate listing for a midwife and nurse on its expert affidavits. Ellington also pointed out that as a midwife, Mannering works with and alongside labor nurses as part of her career, which should more than qualify her as an expert witness. Georgia law allows testimony from those who are an expert in their field when it comes to medical malpractice cases.

Plaintiff is Victorious

Several Georgia judges, including Judge Carla McMillian, Judge William Ray II, and Judge Carla McMillian joined together to express their views on the case. Per Judge McMillian, the “same profession” requirement passed by Legislature for birth injury cases was put into place to ensure that lawsuits were fair. Since Mannering has the credentials and experience, she’s considered a same profession expert witness. The only exception to this rule is when a physician gives an expert testimony.

Since the majority of the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed that Mannering was an expert in her field, the verdict was upheld and Dempsey was awarded $13.9 million. Considering the costs of caring for a child with severe medical problems, the compensation amount seems fitting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medically caring for a child who has cerebral palsy can reach in the millions over a lifetime. The more disabilities that accompany the disorder, the more expensive it becomes.