|IHC To Pay
$9.7M in Malpractice
||Thursday, February 3,
comforts her daughter Deserae, 8, during a news
conference Wednesday. A jury awarded Deserae's parents
$9.7 million in damages after Intermountain Health Care
(IHC) employees misread prenatal tests, resulting in her
being born with serious permanent medical problems.
(Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune)
THE SALT LAKE
A Salt Lake County
jury handed a record $9.7 million award to the family of an
8-year-old girl born with crippling cerebral palsy, ruling
that Intermountain Health Care provided negligent prenatal
care that caused the girl's lifelong medical problems.
IHC, the nation's seventh-largest
nonprofit hospital chain and the largest in Utah, could also
face sanctions for failing to produce an ultrasound videotape,
a key piece of evidence, until the waning days of the
Deserae Williams, a quadriplegic who will never eat except
through a stomach tube or speak, say they requested the
videotape as early as 1997. When the video finally was
produced, the last 10 seconds were missing, said attorneys
James W. McConkie and Bradley Parker.
The attorneys argued that nurses at IHC's Cottonwood Hospital
in Murray misread the mother's amniotic fluid tests in the
days before Deserae's 1991 birth. The low levels of the fluid
allowed the fetus to rest on the umbilical cord and cut off
oxygen to the baby's brain, the lawyers said.
"This has been one of the strangest
cases I've ever been involved in," McConkie said Wednesday.
"The tactics IHC used in this case were remarkable: They
produced evidence at the last minute, they tried to blame
doctors midway through, then when we get the tape the most
important part is mysteriously gone."
But Brinton R. Burbidge, who represented the mammoth health
care provider, said McConkie and Parker never formally
requested the videotape and were noteven aware of it until it
was discovered by IHC just days before the trial.
"As soon as I received information of
the existence of the video tape, I informed the plaintiffs'
counsel," Burbidge said. "His experts saw it as soon as my
experts saw it."
In a motion to impose
sanctions, the girls' attorneys also claim the hospital
produced only a handful of the estimated 50 still images taken
during the ultrasound tests. Burbidge contends the actual
number of photos has never been established.
Third District Judge Sandra Peuler, who
heard the case, said Tuesday she will schedule a hearing to
determine if sanctions are warranted.
The jury reached a verdict late Monday evening after 3 1/2
hours of deliberation and 10 days of testimony. Burbidge said
IHC has not decided if it will appeal.
The largest previous medical malpractice verdict in Utah is
believed to be an $8.1 million award against FHP in 1993. That
case also involved a child who received debilitating brain
damage during delivery.
parents expressed relief.
"It's been a
hard process and it's been a long process," said Shawna
Williams, who has two other children. "If anything happens to
us now, we know she'll be taken care of."
Teachers say Deserae Williams is a
little girl who loves to play trapped in a body that won't.
She thinks and feels, but will never produce words. The
teachers stopped having the class sing "If you're happy and
you know it," and "I like being me," because while the rest of
the children clapped hands, Deserae, a second-grader, quietly
"She's very much aware,"
said Shawna Williams.
Gar Williams, rigged a makeshift elevator in their Murray home
to give Deserae and her wheelchair access to the backyard, and
built a contraption to allow her to play in the sandbox.
"Now they'll be able to afford a safe
elevator," McConkie said.
lawsuit, which was filed in 1997, the Williams' contended that
Cottonwood Hospital cut off their perinatal services sometime
before Shawna Williams' pregnancy. But her primary doctor,
James Bryner, was unaware the services had been terminated,
the Williams family contended.
Perinatologists are obstetricians with additional training in
Hamilton, the hospital's medical director, said there are now
two perinatologists on staff. He was not at the hospital at
the time of the 1991 birth.
sent sympathies to the Williams family Tuesday but maintains
the hospital did nothing wrong.
disappointed with the jury verdict," he said. "The hospital
believes that the amniotic fluid tests were accurately read
and that the test results were appropriately reported to the
The jury awarded
$4,711,100 for past and future medical and other expenses to
raise the child and $5 million in general damages for her pain
The jury ruled that IHC
must pay 70 percent of the verdict and Dr. Bryner the
remaining 30 percent. The family, however, settled with Bryner
for an undisclosed amount prior to trial.
"The Williams will not extract one
penny of this verdict from Dr. Bryner," McConkie said, because
they believe the doctor was not at fault.
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