Appeals court upholds $23.9 million verdict

Jefferson Healthcare was negligent, court ruled

TACOMA — A three-judge panel at the state Court of Appeals has affirmed a $23.9 million verdict against Jefferson Healthcare following catastrophic birth injuries to Lana Burke, a Port Hadlock girl born nearly eight years ago at the hospital in Port Townsend.

Jefferson Healthcare’s negligence at the time of Lana’s birth proximately caused the damages to Lana and her parents, Anna Scott and Zachary Burke, according to the original verdict rendered by a Kitsap County Superior Court jury in December 2019.

“The Jefferson Healthcare team was disappointed to learn of the outcome of our appeal in the lawsuit brought forward by the Burke family,” said Jefferson Healthcare officials in a prepared statement issued Thursday.

“While we continue to have compassion for the Burke family, we respectfully disagree with the appellate court’s decision and we continue to stand by our medical providers and caregivers and the medical procedures and processes that were followed in this case.”

Lana was born with brain damage after the hospital staff failed to properly monitor her heart rate during labor and delivery, according to the verdict.

At the time of the trial, Lana was nearly 6 years old, but she had the mental age of a 12- to 18-month-old, court documents said. She had significant developmental and neurological deficits, experienced seizures every few months and suffered spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy; she will require 24/7 adult supervision and care for the rest of her life, according to court documents.

The Burke family’s claim, filed first in Jefferson County Superior Court in October 2018, was moved to Kitsap County in 2019 due to the difficulty of finding an impartial jury, court documents said.

Soon after that verdict, Jefferson Healthcare appealed, citing matters of appropriate evidence, jury selection and the impartiality of Superior Court Judge Jennifer Forbes.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals issued the unanimous decision by Judges Bradley Maxa, Anne Cruser and Bernard Veljacik, ruling the Superior Court trial did not err in its verdict against Jefferson Healthcare and its nearly $24 million award.

Robert Gellatly of Luvera Law Firm of Seattle, which has represented the Burke family, said the award will help pay for Lana’s care and give her “the services she needs to have the best life possible.”

The court was charged with assessing “the human harm,” Gellatly added. “The jury has to assign some value to what the parents have gone through. These were young parents expecting a beautiful baby.”

Lana was born Jan. 25, 2014, purple and limp. She began experiencing seizures within 12 or 13 hours after delivery, according to court documents.

While she was still inside her mother’s womb, her umbilical cord had been wrapped around her neck, which slowed her heart rate and decreased blood flow and oxygenation to her brain.

Hospital staff had been using an electronic heart rate monitor, according to court documents, but during the last three hours before Lana was born, they failed to realize the monitor was reading the mother’s heartbeat, not the baby’s.

The six-week trial in Kitsap County Superior Court ended with the Dec. 20, 2019, verdict finding Jefferson Healthcare negligent and stating Lana’s injuries were suffered because of it.

“The entire Jefferson Healthcare team was deeply saddened to learn of the lawsuit brought against our hospital by the Burke family regarding the delivery of care provided by our obstetrics team,” Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn said at the time.

“We have a long-established track record of successfully delivering more than 100 babies each year and for being the community’s sole provider of comprehensive obstetrics services.”

On Thursday, Gellatly said he expects Jefferson Healthcare to petition for review of the verdict by the Washington State Supreme Court.

The 30-day petition period will end Feb. 3, and then it could take four or five months for the high court to decide whether to review the case, the attorney added.

In its statement Thursday, Jefferson Healthcare said it is “currently reviewing the court’s decision and all of our legal options, and we have been advised not to comment further until this process is complete.”

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Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] dailynews.com.

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