$74.5 million med-mal verdict to child born with cerebral palsy. San Luis Obispo.

Summary

In-utero heart rate fluctuates dramatically but medical team fails to hasten birth. Child born with cerebral palsy.

The Case

  • Case Name: Blunt v. Haupt
  • Court and Case Number: San Luis Obispo Superior/CV 10-0071
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, April 19, 2012
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, February 08, 2010
  • Type of Action: Medical Malpractice
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Charles S. Crandall
  • Plaintiffs:
    Andrew and Jennifer Blunt, on behalf of their daughter, Sofia Blunt.
  • Defendants:
    Kurt Haupt, M.D., Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $74,525,000
  • Economic Damages:

    $63,000,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $11,525,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 weeks
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days (Less than 10 hours total per defense)
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Reductions for MICRA. Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center - Confidential settlement, 3 weeks into trial.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:
    Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley, LLP by Nicholas C. Rowley, Robert J. Ounjian, and Rodney G. Ritner, Beverly Hills (at trial)
    Michels & Watkins by Philip Michels, Shirley K. Watkins and Jinheung N. Lew, Los Angeles (pre-trial workup)
  • Attorney for the Defendant:
    Bertling & Clausen by Peter G. Bertling, Santa Barbara (for Dr. Haupt)
    Hall, Hieatt & Connely by Jay A. Hieatt, San Luis Obispo (for Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center)

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Experts:
    Barry Schifrin, M.D., perinatologist
    Maureen Sims, M.D., neonatologist
    Carter Sneed, M.D., pediatric neurologist
    Sharon Kawai, M.D., physiatrist
  • Defendant's Medical Experts:
    Maurice Druzin, M.D., perinatologist
    William Rhine, M.D., non-retained treating neonatologist
    Mary Kay Dyes, M.D., pediatric neurologist
    Kimberly BeDell, M.D., physiatrist
    Linda Olzack, R.N., life care planner
  • Plaintiff's Technical Experts:
    Peter Formuzis, economist
  • Defendant's Technical Experts:
    Jenny McNulty, economist

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Date and place of incident: April 19, 2009, Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo.

    Facts: During birth of the Blunt's baby, there was an irregularity that caused cerebral palsy. The birth factors that played into this result were in dispute between plaintiffs and defendants.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the in utero heart rate of the Blunt's baby fluctuated dramatically before birth and the defendant doctor did not hasten the birth of the baby or perform a proper examination of the blood cord, resulting in cerebral palsy in the newborn.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    That the baby was diagnosed with an airway obstruction following birth and multiple resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. Her heart rate was greater than 100 beats per minute during the first 5 minutes of her life, but dropped to 0 because of the NICU team's inability to establish an airway. The baby had a heart rate of 0 for a minimum of 18 minutes. Once an airway was established, the baby's heart rate returned to normal and she was subsequently transferred to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford Medical Center where neuroprotective treatment was initiated in a timely fashion.

    The fetus did not have any evidence of "fetal distress" on the fetal monitor tracing as testified by the charge nurse, attending labor and delivery nurse and Dr. Druzin. This was a Class 2 tracing according to ACOG Guidelines and did not warrant an expedited delivery via an episiotomy, forceps, vacuum or cesarean section. The defendant did not testify during trial. The cerebral palsy was caused by an airway obstruction which prevented enough oxygen from getting to the brain for more than 18 minutes.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Daughter born with cerebral palsy.

  • Future medical costs and future loss of earnings.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $51,000,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $10,000,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,000,000
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $1,000,000
  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $3,000,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $0
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $0
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $2,000,000

Additional Notes

The Rest of the Story


In regard to verdict amounts, defense counsel reported: The non-economic damages will be reduced to $750,000 pursuant to MICRA. There will also be a considerable offset applied to economic and non economic damages awarded by the jury because of the confidential settlement between the plaintiffs and Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. The economic damages figure represents $53,000,000 for the gross value of the child's future medical care costs and $10,000,000 for the gross value of her future lost earning capacity. Judge Crandall refused the defendant's request to have the jury decide the present cash value of these damages. He would only allow the jury to decide present cash value if the defense waived their right to request periodic payments of the judgment pursuant to MICRA. In addition, before allowing the jury to decide present cash value, Judge Crandall required the defense to waive their right to appeal his decision regarding this issue, including requiring the defendant and Insurance Company to sign a written waiver of their appellate rights. According to plaintiffs' economist the present cash value of the future medical expenses was $14,087,506 and the present cash value of the lost earnings capacity was $1,308,980. Also, the jury determined that the child's life expectancy was 63 years even though the plaintiffs' expert witnesses testified the child's life expectancy was significantly reduced to a range between 45 and 50 years. In addition, the plaintiffs' economist based his economic projection on the assumption the child would live until the age of 47.5.

In regard to the plaintiff's perinatologist expert witness, defense counsel reported: Judge Crandall excluded any evidence that Dr. Schifrin had been censured by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology for giving dishonest testimony in a prior medical malpractice action.

Disclaimer

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