$229 Million Verdict for Maryland Baby with Cerebral Palsy

cerebral palsy, brain damage

A jury in Baltimore, Maryland slammed Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with a verdict of more than $229 million in a birth injury case.  The case centers around Zubida Byrom, a five year old girl who now lives with cerebral palsy after suffering a lack of oxygen at birth.  The cause of her birth injury, according to the jury, was negligence.

Cerebral Palsy Case Information

Erica Byrom was just 16 years old when she received disheartening news from doctors at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.   Byrom’s blood pressure rose to dangerous levels, and it was determined that she had preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is a desperately serious condition that endangers the lives of the mother and her baby.  It can lead to seizures, stroke, placental abruption, premature birth, or sudden death.  The only way to stop preeclampsia from progressing is to deliver the baby and initiate treatment.

At 25 weeks, Zubida was viable, and it was clear to doctors that they had to deliver, so labor was induced.  However, according to the lawsuit, Johns Hopkins doctors gave Byrom inaccurate information.  Doctors reportedly told Byrom that her child would likely die or suffer brain damage.  Facing such a grim prognosis, the mother chose to induce a natural birth and to forgo a Caesarean section.

Byrom’s attorneys would later allege the prognosis had been mistaken and that her doctors should have performed a c-section in order to avoid causing the severe birth injury.

When Zubida was born she not breathing and had no heartbeat.  She weighed only one-and-a-half pounds.  Thankfully, doctors were able to restart her heart and respiration, and she survived.  Having endured a two-day labor induction, vaginal delivery, and the complications of her mother’s preeclampsia, the baby suffered the hypoxic brain injury, but now suffers the lifelong consequences.

How Did the Birth Injury Cause Cerebral Palsy?

Because of her mother’s high blood pressure and the delayed delivery, Zubida suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen during the vaginal delivery.   Lack of oxygen during delivery causes permanent brain damage.  In this case, Zubida has cerebral palsy, which is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control, speech, and general development.   Many cerebral palsy patients, including Byrom’s daughter, require constant care.

The Trial and Verdict

After a two-week-long trial, the jury awarded Byrom and her daughter more than $226 million.   Attorneys for the plaintiffs say it is the largest medical malpractice verdict ever in the region.   Laws in Maryland cap malpractice verdicts, meaning the sum that Byrom and her daughter will receive will probably shrink to just over $200 million.

Regardless, Byrom said,

“We are grateful to the jury for their careful consideration.  The verdict of the jury insures that Zubida will receive the care and treatment she needs and deserves for the rest of her life.”

Representatives from John Hopkins plan to appeal the verdict, however.   They say the patient was well informed about the risks associated with her condition and yet refused a c-section.  They say neither they, nor the doctor who delivered the baby, are liable because the mother refused surgical delivery.  Their argument and the basis for the appeal is their insistence that the baby’s injuries took place after labor started and ultimately stemmed from the mother’s choice of a vaginal delivery.

What is Preeclampsia and Why is it so Dangerous?

Preeclampsia is a fairly common complication of pregnancy and birth.   About one out of every 20 pregnant women will develop it.   The quintessential symptom of preeclampsia is high blood pressure, but the condition may appear without any noticeable symptoms at all.  For this reason, responsible OBGYNs closely monitor blood pressure among pregnant women, even if they have no symptoms.

Noticeable preeclampsia symptoms may include:

  • Swelling of the hands and face
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain below the rib cage
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurry vision

Medical professionals should treat preeclampsia like the very serious medical condition that it is.  If undiagnosed or untreated, complications can include:

  • Seizures
  • Placenta abruption
  • Poor blood flow to the placenta
  • HELLP ( hemolysis elevated liver enzymes)
  • Increased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases

The only cure for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.  Whether to deliver vaginally or via c-section depends on the overall health of the mother and child.  Doctors in this situation often must weigh the benefits against the risks.

Any injury to the placenta can deprive a baby of oxygen and therefore cause cerebral palsy.  Byrom’s attorneys suggested, and a Baltimore jury agreed, that the baby’s injuries were caused by complications of preeclampsia and could have been avoided with a timely c-section.   Instead, doctors at John Hopkins told a teenage mother that there was little chance of her child being born alive or unharmed.  They clearly failed to impart a sense of urgency and the potential benefits of a surgical delivery.

Can Mothers Refuse a Medically Recommended C-Section?

Johns Hopkins says their hands were tied with regard to performing a c-section because Byrom declined the procedure.  When the life or health of a viable fetus is at risk, physicians are neither compelled nor required to seek a court order to force surgical delivery.  Doctors do not face criminal liability for failing to intervene when a pregnant mother’s decisions harm the unborn baby.  In fact, any doctor who performs surgery on a patient who has refused it exposes him or herself to liability.

That is not to say that many mothers do not feel undeniable pressure from doctors to accept medical interventions during labor and delivery.  Many mothers report feeling as if they had no choice about their birth experience.  The truth is that women have a Constitutional right to refuse treatment.

What do Medical Guidelines Say?

Professional guidelines for OBGYNs who have a patient who refuses treatment are:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Bioethics tells doctors to honor a woman’s right to refuse treatment.  They say doctors should only aggressively challenge a mother’s refusal if the risk to the baby may be permanent, if the treatment is likely to be successful, and if the risk to the mother is low.
  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee on Ethics says it is best to counsel and educate patients, rather than attempt to pressure or compel them.  They say resorting to the legal system is almost never justified, and if a doctor has serious reservations about a patient’s refusal he or she should open a case with the hospital’s internal ethics committee.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) joins the other organizations in discouraging doctors from coercing or attempting to legally compel patients who refuse treatment.  They say it is not right to allow an impersonal court to render judgment on a mother’s informed, if risky, medical decision.

Based on these guidelines and the mother’s rights, Byrom’s physicians could not have forced her to accept a surgical delivery without a court order.  They could have, however, been more forthcoming and urgent in their recommendations.  Furthermore, they could have explained the risks of a vaginal delivery versus a c-section.  Instead, according to the lawsuit, Byrom was only warned that her baby may die or have serious problems.

Cerebral Palsy and Birth Injury Lawsuits

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects around 800,000 people.  Many of these individuals are children, and many are recovering from a birth injury.  When cerebral palsy develops as a result of a birth injury, parents have the right to take legal action.

Injuries from medical malpractice, including birth injuries, are the third leading cause of death in America.  Countless more patients suffer serious injury from medical negligence.

Lawsuits like this one may not systemically change the medical industry, but they do provide a means for individual families to recover from injuries like Zubida is facing.

If your child is battling a birth injury contact Birth Injury Guide to learn more about your options.  You may have an actionable claim, which could allow you to hold the at-fault party financially responsible.  To find out more about your potential claim, call 1-877-415-6603.  You can also reach us online.

 

Sources: