Fort Lauderdale, FL—Attorneys Monday debated whether a nursing staff’s conduct during a perinatal emergency caused a child’s lifelong brain damage, as trial began against the hospital where she was delivered. Mitchell v. South Broward Hospital, CACE 14005044.
Latricia Mitchell’s daughter was delivered by emergency C-section at Memorial Hospital West, in Pembroke Pines, FL, more than four hours after she arrived in the hospital’s ER in October 2008 complaining of vaginal bleeding and abdominal pain. The child was born suffering from brain damage that has left her intellectually disabled and with hearing loss and a seizure disorder, among other medical problems.
Mitchell contends her daughter suffered the brain damage because nurses failed to react appropriately to symptoms that her daughter’s umbilical cord had begun to choke her and separate from the placenta, leaving her without enough oxygen for hours, and causing hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE.
During Monday’s opening statements, Mitchell’s attorney, Diez-Arguelles & Tejedor’s Maria Tejedor, told jurors the hospital’s nursing staff failed to detail the emergency to physicians and failed to act within their authority as the baby’s condition deteriorated. The case, Tejedor said, centered on “nurses who disregarded doctors’ orders, who failed to follow them, because [they] were more concerned about shift change and leaving than protecting their patients.”
Tejedor walked jurors through a timeline she said showed the nursing staff disregarded the child’s increasingly grave situation in the womb. At one point, Tejedor said, nurses had Mitchell watch a newborn safety video while the child was in danger of aspirating on her own fecal matter in the womb. “She’s tanking,” Tejedor told the jury. “[The child was] choking on meconium while [Mitchell] was watching a safety video that the nurses made her watch, while the nurses failed to sound the alarm.”
Tejedor said evidence would show the nurses missed five hours of “golden opportunities” to prevent the child’s brain damage and did not properly react when it became clear Mitchell’s obstetrician, Dr. Sheryl Facey would not be arriving to see Mitchell immediately. “This hospital was the captain of its ship, “ Tejedor said. “The ship belonged to the hospital, not to Dr. Facey.”
Tejedor said she’ll request up to $30 million in future economic damages alone, including up to $28 million for the constant care the child will need throughout her life.
However, the defense argues the nurses kept Facey, who is not a defendant at trial, reasonably informed of Mitchell’s condition. During Monday’s opening, Stearns Miller Weaver’s Thomas Aubin told jurors Facey testified that she received appropriate information about Mitchell’s condition to direct her patient’s course of treatment.
“Dr. Facey, as Ms. Mitchell’s doctor, makes the clinical decision and determination, the evidence will show, having delivered thousands of babies in her career, as to what to do,” Aubin said, arguing evidence would prove there was nothing that should have triggered the nurses to go beyond Facey’s direction. “Because she’s the captain of the ship. She’s the doctor who has been taking care of Ms. Mitchell for over 14 months. She’s the one.”
Aubin highlighted the defense’s version of the timeline surrounding the child’s birth. He said that although results of fetal heart monitoring were a concern, there were no medical records in the hours before birth describing the child being choked by her umbilical cord. He told jurors nurses continued to monitor Mitchell and notify Facey of her condition until she arrived at the hospital and took a first-hand role in Mitchell’s care.
Aubin said evidence, including the child’s symptoms and MRI testing of her brain, would show the baby did not suffer from HIE, but actually suffered a stroke in utero long before she came to the hospital. However, regardless of what caused the brain damage, Aubin said the hospital’s nursing staff was not to blame. “It wasn’t caused by anything [the nurses] did or didn’t do,” Aubin said. “It certainly, the evidence will show, wasn’t caused by any unreasonable behavior or actions on their part.”
Trial is expected to last into mid-August.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Latricia Mitchell and Jerald Mitchell are represented by Diez-Arguelles & Tejedor’s Maria Tejedor and Carlos Diez-Arguelles and The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alejandro Alvarez.
The South Broward Hospital District is represented by Stearns Miller Weaver’s Thomas Aubin and Matthew Podolnik and Chimpoulis Hunter & Lynn’s Jonathon Lynn.
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