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Waverly Family Sues for $55M in Hopkins Malpractice Case

A Waverly couple who sued Johns Hopkins Hospital for malpractice last year after their son was born at the hospital with severe physical and mental disabilities was awarded $55 million dollars by a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury on Monday.

The parents, Enso Martinez and Rebecca Fielding, will receive less than $30 million of that because of a state cap on damages that are unrelated to direct financial losses — which $26 million of the damages were — but the total is still among the largest ever awarded in a malpractice case in the city, according to Gary Wais, one of the parents' attorneys.

Fielding said she tried to deliver her son at home with a midwife, but during the labor it became clear she needed to have a Caesarean section. She said she was at the hospital for about two hours before she received the emergency surgery.

"From the very beginning our gut reaction was something happened wrong, something went wrong," Fielding said Tuesday. "… Throughout the couple of hours that I was waiting, it was a real nightmare for me. The contractions were overwhelming. I was exhausted."

Wais said the judgment means the parents are "going to have the economic resources to take care of their child, not only for their own natural lives, but for their child's."

Gary Stephenson, director of media relations and public affairs for Hopkins, said the hospital will appeal the verdict.

"While we certainly sympathize with Ms. Fielding's situation, we are frankly stunned and surprised that the jury found for the plaintiff in this case given the evidence that was presented," Stephenson said in a statement. "We strongly deny the allegations in Ms. Fielding's complaint and continue to firmly believe that the medical care provided to Ms. Fielding by Hopkins was entirely appropriate given the circumstances and that the standard of care was adhered to in her case. Given our firm belief in this regard, we will appeal the jury's verdict at the Maryland appellate court."

Martinez and Fielding argued the hospital and the Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation, also named in the civil lawsuit, were negligent in their care for Fielding and the couple's then-unborn son, Enzo Martinez, when Fielding was rushed there in March 2010 following Fielding's unsuccessful attempt to deliver the baby at home with the help of a midwife.

The boy, now 2, suffered a loss of oxygen to the brain during his birth and was born with "severe and permanent global developmental delays, severe and permanent brain damage, multiple physical and mental disabilities, and cerebral palsy," according to the parents' lawsuit.

The cause of his lack of oxygen was due to a compressed umbilical cord while still in his mother's womb while at the hospital, in large part due to the fact that Fielding didn't receive the urgent cesarean section she needed until more than two hours after arriving at the hospital, according to the parents' lawsuit.

Attorneys for the hospital and corporation argued that the boy had lost oxygen during prior stages of the mother's labor at the family's home, not at the hospital.

In a statement on the verdict, Hopkins attorney Donald DeVries Jr. said he was "extremely disappointed and shocked by the verdict and will be filing the appropriate appeal."

Regardless of most other facts in the case, the delay between Fielding's arrival at the hospital and the Caesarean section she ultimately underwent particularly resonated with the jury as a problem and a matter of medical negligence, said Wais, who said he spoke with jury members after the verdict was announced.

Stephen L. Snyder, a high-profile Maryland litigator, said he also believes the $55 million judgment is historic and has the potential to change the medical malpractice landscape in the state.

"I would venture to say this is the largest single award in a medical malpractice case in this state," Snyder said. "…I think it's going to result in a rude awakening to insurers that there are times when they might have to pay more than they may be willing to pay to bring closure to cases where the damages are potentially devastating and they are confronting a quality lawyer on the other side."

By Erin B 06/26/2012 07:31:00