Salem, Ore. - Opening statements took place Wednesday in a $40 million medical malpractice trial in Oregon state court over claims that a doctor’s delay in performing an emergency Cesarean section caused a child to be born with permanent brain damage.
The parents of 7-year-old Maverick Ramseyer sued Dr. Denis Dalisky in 2011 alleging that his failure to order a C-section quickly enough after Ramseyer’s heart rate dropped to dangerously low levels resulted in him developing cerebral palsy, which an attorney for Elizabeth and Derrick Ramseyer told jurors would require a lifetime of costly medical care.
"It's never going to get better," said Kenneth Suggs of Janet Jenner & Suggs LLC while detailing the extent of Maverick’s brain damage to the jury, according to a Courtroom View Network webcast of the proceedings.
Elizabeth Ramseyer was two-weeks overdue in December 2007, when she was admitted to Silverton Hospital, according to the Ramseyers' complaint. Suggs told jurors Dalisky ordered the use of dangerously high levels of childbirth induction drugs and did so mostly from his home while directing hospital nurses over the phone.
Ramseyer was instructed to push before she was sufficiently dilated, which caused Maverick to go into distress and his heart rate to repeatedly dip below normal, Suggs told the jury. Dalisky finally ordered a C-section when the heart rate dropped to a dangerously low rate for nearly 8-minutes. By then Maverick had inhaled fecal material and been deprived of oxygen for long enough to cause brain damage, according to Suggs.
Suggs argued that both the decision to manage Ramseyer’s birth remotely and to not immediately order a C-section based on the information relayed to Dalisky fell below the standard of care.
"What would a reasonable doctor do?" Suggs asked the jury. "A reasonable doctor now would come see the patient. A reasonable doctor would evaluate the patient. And a reasonable doctor would deliver the baby because you have no idea how long this is going to go."
Suggs told the jury that while $40 million in damages may seem high, that amount is necessary to adequately provide decades of medical care for a child with severe neurological disabilities. Cerebral palsy affects muscle coordination and emotional development, and Suggs said Maverick will require a range of expensive therapies and equipment like braces for years to come.
"We're going to ask you to award enough money so that those things can be afforded after he becomes 18," Suggs said. "The parents have no stake in this. It's all for Maverick."
Representing Dalisky, John Hart of Hart Wagner LLP told jurors that his client acted properly during a delivery with unexpected complications, and that the extent of Maverick’s disabilities can’t be fully determined until he is older.
Hart argued that periodic dips in a baby’s heart rate like those experienced by Maverick, known as variable decelerations, are common when labor is induced with drugs, and that they don’t always indicate a baby is in distress.
"They are so common that we could go to any hospital in Oregon right now and see variable decelerations," Hart said.
Dalisky promptly ordered a C-section as soon as he had information showing Maverick was in distress, according to Hart, who told the jury that doing so any earlier would have posed a risk to the mother.
Hart disputed the Ramseyers’ claims that Maverick needs lifelong care, describing him as a normal 7-year-old who participates in taekwondo and plays soccer. He also called into question the credibility of expert witnesses retained by the plaintiffs who had never physically examined Maverick.
"We're shocked that now all these doctors who have never seen Maverick are going to come in and explain why he needs lifelong care."
The trial before Judge Vance day is expected to last up to two weeks.
Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CVN late Wednesday evening.
The Ramseyers are represented by Kenneth M. Suggs of Janet Jenner & Suggs LLC and by Laura Kalur of Kalur Law.
Dalisky is represented by John E. Hart of Hart Wagner LLP.
The case is Ramseyer v. Dalisky, case number 11C22122, in Marion County Circuit Court.