Botched Birth: Jury Awards $20.8 Million

Newborn suffered brain damage at Fort Knox hospital

A U.S. District Court jury yesterday recommended that the federal government pay $20.8 million in damages to the mother of a 5-year-old boy who was brain-damaged in a botched delivery at Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox.

The jury’s verdict is advisory, although its ruling absolving a civilian doctor of liability is final.

If Chief U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III agrees that the hospital is liable and imposes the recommended damages, it would be among the largest judgments ever returned in Kentucky in a medical liability case. “That little boy deserves every single penny of it,” said Tyler Thompson, the attorney who represented the child. Marquies David Winston, who is now 5.

Juries do not normally sit on cases in which the US. Government is a defendant, but one was impaneled in this case because a civilian doctor working on contract with the hospital was also being sued.

Simpson did not tell the jury that its decision as to the responsibility of the hospital would be only advisory. He will not make his ruling for several months.

Marquies did not get enough oxygen during birth and consequently suffered catastrophic brain injury, cerebral palsy and cortical blindness, meaning the brain does not receive visual images, from the eye, because of a 54-minute delay in performing an emergency Caesarean section on April 5, 1993, Thompson said.

He said medical guidelines say an emergency C-section should take place no more than 30 minutes after a doctor decides to perform one.

But in this case, he said, an anesthesiologist, called at home, took 48 minutes to arrive at the hospital. He said the anesthesiologist said the hospital did not tell him it was an emergency, and Thompson described the problem as a “miscommunication.”

Winston’s mother, Adriane, declined to comment yesterday. He attorney said she was thrilled with the verdict, but too emotional to speak.

The boy’s father, Marcus, was a soldier, and the family was stationed at Fort Knox at the time of Marquies’ birth. Thompson said the couple has since divorced and Adriane Winston and her son live in Columbia, S.C. Thompson said the rate of divorce among parents of severely handicapped children is very high because of the stress involved.

The jury’s damages were for past and future medical costs, pain and suffering, and lost wages over the course of the child’s life.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case yesterday afternoon.

Kent Westberry, a former assistant U.S. attorney who sometimes handled civil cases for the federal government, said that advisory jury verdicts are rare, and, especially without him knowing about the particulars of this case, there is no way to predict whether a judge will follow the recommendation.

“But anybody would have to take notice of a verdict that size,” he said.

It is not, however, the largest jury verdict in this type of case in Kentucky. In 1996, a jury in Boone County awarded $23 million to a Tennessee family whose child suffered brain damage and mental retardation after being given too much dextrose – sugar and water – shortly after birth at St. Luke Hospital East. The family of Carlee Bailey settled for $13.25 million on the condition that the hospital not appeal the ruling, reports at the time said.

The Winston trial went to the jury on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The jury of 9 people returned with the verdict at 4 p.m. yesterday.

Donald Brown Jr., the attorney for Dr. Helen How, who performed the C-section on Adriane Winston, said he was pleased with the verdict, which exonerated How.

“We are elated that the jury could listen to the evidence and return a correct verdict in favor of Dr. How,” he said.

Published by: Louisville Courier-Journal

Written by: Beverly Bartlett