After seven long years of legal battles, a jury in Denver, Colorado recently reached a 17.8 million dollar verdict against Children’s Hospital of Colorado. According to Denver’s KCNC TV, the jury found the hospital liable for causing permanent brain damage to a four-day-old girl after the hospital caused the baby to go into cardiac arrest while performing a routine procedure. The verdict is believed to be the largest award of damages in a medical malpractice case in Colorado history.
Naomi Pressley was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect shortly after her birth in 2008. Four days later she was transferred to Children’s Hospital to undergo routine surgery to repair her heart. Prior to the surgery, doctors administered prostaglandin, a drug used to stabilize an infant’s heart during the period prior to surgery. As Yahoo News notes, jurors concluded doctors violated the medical standard of care by administering the wrong dosage of this drug, which caused Naomi to have a heart attack while on the operating table. It took doctors more than 33 minutes to resuscitate her leading to permanent physical disabilities and brain damage.
Today, Naomi’s day-to-day life is a far cry from the normal life of a seven-year-old girl. She requires 24-hour supervision and assistance with simple everyday activities such as eating solid food. She breathes through oxygen tanks and receives daily injections of medication in her abdomen. As a result of the brain damage, while Naomi will continue to physically age, her intellectual capacity will never progress much further than its current state. The entirety of her life will require expensive medical care and special accommodations impacting not only the little girl but the everyday lifestyle of her family. As Naomi’s mother Jennifer commented, “no family should have to go through what we’ve had to endure. Our family has experienced incredible pain throughout this very difficult situation.” Perhaps most difficult to endure is that this entire episode was completely preventable.
At first glance, 17.8 million dollars seems like a lot of money. The sad reality, however, is that almost all of this money will now be needed to pay for Naomi’s around the clock care and her already existing medical expenses. For example, the Denver Business Journal notes that in the first seven years of Naomi’s life, her family accumulated more than half a million dollars in medical expenses alone. The jury determined that her necessary medical care until she reaches her eighteenth birthday would cost an additional 1.9 million dollars. This extensive care and any future surgeries in her adult years are expect to cost more than 12 million dollars. The remaining damages covered approximately 2 million dollars for lost wages over the course of Naomi’s life and $952,000 for all of Naomi’s pain and suffering. However, this latter amount was automatically reduced to $300,000, the maximum allowed by Colorado law.
Here in Chicago, as well as the entire state of Illinois, personal injury and medical malpractice damages are determined in a similar way. Jurors are asked to allocate money for past and future medical expenses, disfigurement, disability, loss of normal life, pain and suffering, and past and future lost wages/earnings/profits as well as other benefits. However, unlike Colorado, there are no limits on non-economic damages in Illinois. Such caps were ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2010 on the grounds that a legislative enactment reducing judgments violated separation of powers by infringing on the judicial branch’s authority. Lebron v. Gottlieb Mem. Hosp., 237 Ill. 2d 217 (Ill. 2010).
Naomi’s case represents the importance of the American justice system. Doctors made a horrible mistake, forever altering a child’s life. While this verdict cannot repair the damage or return her life to the sense of normalcy she deserves, it can hopefully provide this girl with all of her necessary medical care and accommodations to make overcoming this horrible event more fair and manageable.