Fort Lauderdale, FL— Jurors Wednesday handed down a $24.5 million award against a team of doctors for the death of a Florida woman hours after childbirth. Vargas-Chavez, et al. v. Gonzalez-Garcia, et al., CACE18001011.
The jury, in Florida’s 17th Circuit Court, deliberated about two hours before reaching its verdict in the damages-only trial over the July 2015 death of Lilia Torres.
Wednesday’s award includes $3.675 million to Torres’s husband, Rodolfo Vargas Chavez; $4.9 million each to three of Torres’s children; and $6.125 million to Lilian Daleyza Vargas, who was born shortly before her mother’s death.
According to a complaint filed in the case, Torres died following massive bleeding that plaintiffs contend was caused by complications during Vargas’s birth.
The defendants, including Drs. Adolfo Gonzalez-Garcia, Jorge Gallo, Julio Coello, and Kei Nakanishi, and Phoenix Obstetrics Gynecology, LLC, conceded negligence and causation. And the two-day trial centered on the impact Torres’s death had on the family.
During Wednesday’s closings, Schell Cooley’s Russ Schell acknowledged Torres’s death was a tragedy but argued that the family had moved forward in its wake as well as it possibly could. “We are here to fairly and adequately compensate for the loss of this fine woman,” Schell said, suggesting a $4 million total award to the family would be appropriate.
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But plaintiffs’ attorneys argued Torres’s death devastated the family, who struggled to cope with her loss.
“Rodolfo made a choice to honor the commitment that he made to his wife. The kids made a choice to continue to try to make Mom proud even though she’s not here anymore. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t carry this horrific loss with them every single day,” The Haggard Law Firm’s Todd Michaels told jurors Wednesday in requesting up to $41 million in total damages. “This family hasn’t moved on.”
After the verdict, Freedland Harwin Valori's Daniel Harwin, representing the plaintiffs, told CVN he believed the jury connected with the emotional testimony of Torres's husband and children. "It really was about the family members," Harwin said. "I think [jurors] were able to truly understand what they had been through and how difficult it had been and how difficult the future was going to be after losing their wife and their Mom."
Harwin said he believed the defense's stipulation on negligence and causation, entered weeks before trial, was a strategic decision to try to limit the ultimate award. "I think they made that decision in order to keep the verdict down," Harwin said, "but I think the jury still saw the pain and suffering that this family suffered and will continue to suffer."
Although he did not give specific figures, Harwin told CVN that pre-trial settlement discussions did not sway the family from taking the case to a jury. "[The family] wanted their story to be heard and [defense offers] just simply were not adequate considering the damages and considering how much suffering had occurred to the family," he said.
Harwin added that he believed Torres's death served as an example of a broader, national healthcare issue. "There is a very serious maternal mortality problem in this country, and it's something we have to do something about," Harwin said, noting Wednesday's award aligned with pre-trial focus group numbers. "And if that means going and having juries tell the public that this is not OK, then that’s what we’ll continue to do.
CVN has reached out to attorneys for the defense, and will update this story with any comment.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated as events warrant.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plaintiffs are represented by Daniel Harwin of Freedland Harwin Valori and Todd Michaels of The Haggard Law Firm.
The defense is represented by La Cava & Jacobson’s William Carcioppolo and Schell Cooley’s Russ Schell.
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