Arkansas jury enters $46.5 million verdict for toddler in medical malpractice case
MIAMI – March 10, 2017 – In a two-week trial, a toddler, Kara Smalls received a jury verdict of $46.5 Million in compensatory damages against a family doctor, Dr. Jonathan Lewis, employed by Ouachita Valley Family Clinic, a Baptist Health Affiliate and also against Ouachita County Medical Center. The plaintiff was represented by Stuart N. Ratzan and Stuart J. Weissman of Ratzan Law Group, P.A., Miami, FL. Ratzan Law Group was assisted by Jim Lyons of Lyons & Cone, P.A., Jonesboro, AR and Kimberly Boldt and Mario Giommoni of The Boldt Law Firm, Boca Raton, FL. The verdict was entered on Thursday March 9, 2017.
Kara Smalls’ parents alleged that medical negligence and failure to properly manage and treat newborn jaundice in their baby immediately after her birth in June, 2014, led to the development of kernicterus in baby Kara Smalls’ brain.
The untreated jaundice led to permanent disability and irreversible brain damage. As a result, the child is locked into a body that will never work properly. She cannot walk, talk, feed herself, or care for herself independently, yet she has normal cognitive function. She can think, feel, and emote like a normal child. She will likely be bound to a wheelchair and adaptive walking aids for the rest of her life. She will also require 24 hour care and supervision as well as intensive medical treatment for the remainder of her life.
Kernicterus is a serious condition that can lead to significant brain damage and in severe cases, death. It is imperative for medical personnel to be able to detect the telltale signs of jaundice and treat it promptly. Newborn jaundice is easy to diagnose with a pinprick of blood and simple to treat with phototherapy lights.
Kara Smalls’ parents alleged at trial that the doctor and hospital ignored generally accepted national patient safety guidelines for the management and treatment of newborn jaundice. The national patient safety guidelines were developed in 2004 and 2009, yet the doctor and hospital chose not to adopt or follow the national standard of care. The defendants ignored the high initial bilirubin reading as well as the jaundice in the first 24 hours of the baby’s life, yet chose not to do any repeat blood testing and not administer phototherapy lights before discharge. After the baby was sent home, her bilirubin blood level got so high that it penetrated her brain and caused profound brain damage.
“The defendants argued at trial that South Arkansas doctors and hospitals are free to ignore the patient safety rules and do what they want; the defendants argued that the standard of care is lower In South Arkansas than the rest of the country,” said Stuart N. Ratzan, lead trial lawyer for the child.
At trial, Ratzan countered that any community where doctors and hospitals deliver babies, and have available to them the technology to test for bilirubin and to provide phototherapy lights, is a community where the patient safety rules apply. The defendant hospital and the defendant doctor in Camden, AR did indeed have the necessary equipment.
The plaintiffs argued, therefore, that the defendant doctor and defendant hospital in Camden, AR, like everyone else in the United States who treats newborn babies, were required to follow the prevailing patient safety rules. The plaintiffs argued that when doctors and hospitals break the patient safety rules anywhere in the United States, including South Arkansas, they should be fully accountable for the consequences.
“We are encouraged by the jury’s commitment to the patient safety rules for South Arkansas, and we are thrilled that the jury devoted itself to a verdict that would provide for Kara Smalls, age 2 1/2, for the rest of her life. Newborn babies need and deserve competent medical care in all of the United States, whether it’s Ouachita County, AR, Pulaski County, AR, Miami, FL, or anywhere else in the country.” Ratzan said.
The jury found defendants Jonathan Lewis and Ouachita County Medical Center negligent for violating the national guidelines.