Hospital must pay family $8.5 million, jury rules


The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND

In a verdict announced at 3:30 a.m. Saturday after 15 hours of deliberation, a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas jury ordered MetroHealth Medical center to pay $8.5 million to the mother of a child who suffered permanent brain injury at birth three years ago.

Nala Myers, who turned 3 on Saturday, suffered lack of oxygen to the brain because she was not promptly and properly resuscitated after delivery, according to the lawsuit for her mother, Tierra Myers.

She is tube-fed, unable to speak or walk and will never be able to care for herself, said Myers’ attorney, Bill Jacobson of the Cleveland law firm Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy.

The hospital contended that a placental infection caused the baby’s distress, he said.

“Our sympathy goes out to the family,” spokeswoman Shannon Mortland said in a statement for MetroHealth. “However, there were complex issues associated with this case, and we feel we acted appropriately.

“We anticipate examining our options for appeal.”

Lawyers for the hospital could not be reached for comment.

The size of the judgment reflects the lifelong care Nala will require. A search of the Lexis.com jury verdict database indicates it is not unusual for cases in Ohio in which significant brain damage occurs during childbirth.

The eight-member civil jury heard almost three weeks of testimony by experts from around the country before starting their deliberations around noon on Friday. They reached their decision at 2:45 a.m. Saturday.

It was the jury that decided to stay deep into the night.

“That’s what they wanted to do. We let them make the decision” to continue, said Judge Richard Markus in an interview Saturday evening.

Markus, a visiting judge, said he offered to let the jury break until Saturday or Monday. He said it might have been the latest hour for a verdict in his 58 years of law.

Markus said he stayed at the courthouse through the deliberations. “It’s part of the job,” he said.

Jacobson said Nala had a heartbeat but was not breathing after her full-term delivery. The obstetrics nurse in charge of her tried resuscitation but waited five minutes before calling the hospital’s Code Pink team of neonatal resuscitation experts.

The “most telling piece of evidence,” Jacobson said, was the record of Nala’s Apgar score, which measures a newborn’s condition according to heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, appearance and response to stimulation. Apgar scores are usually taken one minute and five minutes after birth.

A forensic documents examiner testified that analysis showed the one-minute score was altered to look better. A better score would help justify why the resuscitation team wasn’t called immediately, Jacobson said.

“They’re a fabulously qualified team,” Jacobson said. “MetroHealth is a wonderful institution with wonderful resources. In this instance, there was failure to utilize the resources in a timely fashion.”

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