Disabled girl awarded $3M in medical malpractice case

AUBURN — A jury awarded a 10-year-old severely disabled girl more than $3 million Thursday in a medical malpractice case involving a midwife who helped in the girl's delivery at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

The Androscoggin County Superior Court jury deliberated for roughly four hours Wednesday and two hours Thursday before reaching a split verdict.

In a 6-3 vote, the jury found that midwife Irene Meyers breached the standard of care when she oversaw the birth of Hannah Tilton and that her failure caused injuries to the girl.

The jury awarded Tilton nearly $2.3 million for future medical and health-care expenses, plus $345,000 for past medical expenses and $500,000 for the girl's permanent impairment and loss of enjoyment of life.

The jury rejected a claim against the hospital that alleged it represented Meyers or her practice as its agent.

The jury also rejected the claim of Tilton's mother, Johanna Xochitil, that she was unable to function as a result of her mental illness starting at the time of her daughter's birth and lasting for at least two years.

At issue were questions about the cause of Tilton's many and severe medical problems and whether Meyers was responsible for any of those problems because she failed to deliver the expected standard of care.

The nine-day trial spanned three weeks. The judge handed over the case to the jury of four women and five men at noon Wednesday. The jury was instructed to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Hannah Tilton was born with severe mental retardation. She is confined to a wheelchair and uses a feeding tube for sustenance. She is blind and can't speak or communicate verbally, according to lawyers involved in the case.

She lives with her father, Phillip Tilton, who sued on behalf of his daughter. Until this year, she lived in a state foster home.

Tilton was diagnosed with Kabuki Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that derives its name from the facial features found in people born with it.

Tilton's attorney, William McKinley, had argued that the disorder doesn't explain all of Hannah Tilton's symptoms. She must have suffered injury due to lack of oxygen during labor when a fetal monitor indicated there was a problem.

"Needless to say, we're very pleased," McKinley said after the jury left the law library at the Androscoggin County Courthouse, where the trial was concluded.

McKinley had urged during his closing arguments that the jury take its time to deliberate in order to deliver a just, not a hasty, verdict. "I think that justice has been served," he said.

He said he was disappointed for Xochitil, but accepted the jury's 6-3 vote against her claim. He also was disappointed in the outcome of the jury's denial of the plaintiff's claim that CMMC was also liable.

"It was a tough question, both factually and legally," he said. "There are no winners in this. Everyone in the courtroom, particularly defense counsel, agreed this it's a tragic situation."

Stephen Wade, an attorney representing CMMC, said he was "absolutely delighted" that the jury didn't believe the argument that when a hospital provides office space for an independent private medical practice, it assumes liability for the doctors and nurses who work for that practice.

Christopher Nyhan, an attorney for Meyers, had argued that Meyers followed standard medical care procedures, an assertion that he said was backed by the obstetrician who took over the delivery and the nurses who assisted.

"I'm tremendously disappointed with the jurors' analysis of the medicine and facts, but we respect the jury's function," he said. An appeal is unlikely, he said.

Meyers lost a similar suit in 2007 that was brought by the parent of a then-5-year-old boy who was born with cerebral palsy due to lack of blood and oxygen to his brain. They argued that Meyers should have recommended an emergency Cesarean section when the baby appeared to be in fetal distress. That jury voted 6-2 to award $6.71 million to the boy.

Unlike a criminal trial, in which a jury must reach a unanimous decision and find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, civil juries must reach a majority opinion based on a preponderance of evidence.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Carrie LaRoche's picture

odd

While it is very sad that this child has such a low quality of life, I don't see how a genetic abnormality becomes the responsibility of the midwife delivering the baby. This is why it cost so much for OB/GYN doctors to practice - the malpractice insurance is insane.
What's next? Sue the mailman for delivering the bills that stressed you out and caused you to be depressed or have a heart attack...

Libby St Pierre's picture

I couldn't have said it

I couldn't have said it better Carrie!

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