PORT TOWNSEND — A Kitsap County jury has awarded $23.9 million to a Port Hadlock family who filed a tort claim against Jefferson Healthcare saying the hospital’s negligence led to their daughter being born with brain damage.
Hospital officials plan to appeal the verdict.
The claim, filed by the Luvera Law Firm of Seattle on behalf of Anna Scott and Zachery Burke, said doctors and nurses at Jefferson Healthcare hospital in Port Townsend missed critical signs with electronic heartbeat monitoring that showed the baby was in distress.
The couple’s daughter, Lana, had her umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck before she was born on Jan. 25, 2014.
The claim stated medical providers used a fetal heart monitor during delivery but failed to realize it was picking up Scott’s heartbeat, not the baby’s, for most of the last three hours before Lana was born.
“This just wasn’t negligence, it was grossly negligent,” said Robert Gellatly of Luvera Law Firm. “This was so clear, and it should have been known. I think Jefferson Healthcare betrayed not only this patient’s trust but now it’s the public trust because it’s a public health district.”
The seven-week trial in front of a 12-member jury was conducted in Kitsap County Superior Court before Judge Jennifer Forbes.
The verdict rendered Dec. 20 found Jefferson Healthcare negligent and that the injuries were sustained because of it.
Jefferson Healthcare CEO Mike Glenn said in a prepared statement that the hospital strongly disagrees with the verdict and plans to file an appeal.
“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 in January of 2014 for Lana Burke,” Glenn said.
“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.”
Lana, who will turn 6 later this month, was diagnosed with severe brain injury shortly after birth, according to a press release from Luvera Law Firm.
Doctors expect she will have permanent cognitive impairment, speech and language deficits and impaired motor skills. She can now walk unsteadily but can’t dress or properly feed herself, according to the press release.
The jury’s award for Lana was $10 million in necessary non-medical expenses, $6.25 million for non-economic damages, $2 million for medical care, treatment and services, and just more than $1 million for lost earnings and earnings capacity, according to court documents.
Scott and Burke each were awarded $2.3 million, according to court documents.
“There were many opportunities to see that Lana was in trouble, but the medical team missed every one of them,” Scott said in the press release.
“Now Lana will have to live with the consequences of the Jefferson Healthcare providers’ poor decisions for the rest of her life.”
The claim originally was filed in Jefferson County Superior Court in October 2016 and was moved to Kitsap County last May due to the difficulty of finding an impartial jury, according to court documents.
The trial began Nov. 4 and concluded last month.
Gellatly said GE Healthcare, which manufactures the heart monitoring equipment, was eventually dismissed from the case. It settled with Scott and Burke for a high-low amount between $1 million and $5 million, depending on allocation of the percentage of fault, he said.
Gellatly said Scott had a normal pregnancy with good fetal heartbeat readings while she was in labor.
The doctor broke Scott’s water about 5:30 p.m., Gellatly said, and the baby’s heartbeat didn’t look as good.
“[The doctor] said she knew there was a cord around the neck, even though that wasn’t reflected in the records,” Gellatly said.
He said that for the next three hours, the baby’s heartbeat was concerning because it had decelerations — which is a a decrease in the fetal heart rate below the fetal baseline heart rate.
Between 8:30 and nearly 11 p.m., most of the readings were from Scott and not the baby, Gellatly said.
“Everything looked great, but that wasn’t true,” he said. “If you look at the tracing and there’s an abrupt change, you can compare the maternal heart rate to the fetal heart rate.
“It was like an air traffic controller monitoring a plane at 3,000 feet, but the real plane was in the clouds.”
Gellatly said experts testified during the trial that a change showed a “very concerning” tracing for the baby at 10:52 p.m., but she didn’t incur the brain injury until the last 30-45 minutes before delivery.
Lana was born blue and “floppy” at 11:45 p.m., and she had to be resuscitated, Gellatly said.
The claim says Lana suffered brain cell death and brain damage due to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and cites an MRI report taken when she was five days old.
Gellatly said the damage could have been avoided if she had been delivered hours earlier by Cesarean section.
“Our hearts go out to the Burke family as the path toward healing and long-term medical stability for a child with any physical or developmental condition can be both emotionally and financially stressful,” Glenn said.
“We hold our labor and delivery staff and care to the highest possible standards, and we remain confident in their capabilities, and in the procedures and processes that were followed during this particular delivery,” he added.
“Our hospital has had a very safe track record, and we have worked extremely hard over the past decade to make this one of the best hospitals in the region.”
Scott said she and Burke want other parents to know about the safety issue and hope to prevent it from happening to another family.
“Lana is such a blessing in our lives and has the most beautiful smile and heart, but she will need care for the rest of her life, and this verdict ensures she has a financial safety net to sustain her for decades to come,” Scott said.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].