Just prior to handing a medical malpractice case to the jury, U.S. Federal District Court Judge Kim R. Gibson ruled That Dr. John Chan had caused permanent disfigurement to a newborn baby. The judge then ordered the Jury to decide on damages and they ultimately awarded the parents of the infant $47 million, a Pennsylvania federal court record. The trial took place in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in March 2018.
The parents, who reside in Texas, sued Dr. John Chan, the Conemaugh Health System and its parent company, Duke LifePoint Healthcare, for medical malpractice. The parents claim that Chan was negligent when in 2012 during the birth of their daughter, he decided to use a head wrap on the newborn when it appeared that she was suffering a growing hemorrhage that the doctor feared could have resulted in death if the bleeding was not stopped. The wrap subsequently caused the scalp of the child to blacken, which prevents her from ever growing a full head of hair. The parents were visiting Johnstown, Pennsylvania at the time of the birth. They filed the lawsuit in 2015.
Now 5 years old, the girl has undergone a number of reconstructive surgeries and the ongoing treatment she will need will likely cost more than $3 million through the rest of her life, Philadelphia-based attorney Dominic Guerrini told the jury in opening statements.
Dr. Chan testified during the jury case that he had used the same procedure during at least 10 births in which the newborn suffered growing bleeding with positive results and no complications.
A California neonatologist also testified in the medical negligence suit that Dr. Chan had misdiagnosed a rupture of blood vessels (hemotoma) under the scalp and the use of the head wrap made things worse.
Attorneys of both the Plaintiffs and Defendants in the medical negligence case agreed that medical records showed the possibility of a rupture under the skin on the right side of the infant’s head. Chan ordered a CT scan that substantiated the diagnosis. However, he said that he had performed his own examination that he had learned during his early years of practicing pediatrics in the Philippines and that it indicated that the mass had grown and moved to the base of the skull. He argued that this suggested that a traumatic injury had occurred during delivery that caused bleeding outside the skull. Because the mass continued to grow, he ordered that the newborn’s head be wrapped with a bandage. There was occasional redressing, however the bandage remained on the child’s head for three days.
The Plaintiffs’ expert witness, Dr. Victoria Niklas, a longtime neonatologist and a clinical professor at UCLA, countered that the wrap was the reason for the tissue scars on the newborn’s head during the Conemaugh hospital birth.
“He used an Ace bandage to control a hemorrhage which did not exist,” said Niklas. She added that the wrap led to “injuries (the child) will continue to suffer throughout her life.”
According to Niklas, Chan should have relied on the results of the scans and ordered a follow-up for a second look. By leaving the bandages in place even after the infant’s face began to swell caused tissues to breakdown under the wrap, she said.
Of the jury’s award of $47 million, $43.7 million was for past and future non-economic damages including pain and suffering and $3.3 million for future medical expenses.
All medical professionals must make snap decisions during surgery that ultimately could determine the patient’s fate. Unfortunately, costly mistakes happen during surgery. Medical professionals sometimes are not properly trained. They work long hours and face workplace stress. Any of these factors can lead to hospital negligence and potentially may set the stage for a wrongful death lawsuit. If you or a loved one has suffered from medical malpractice or negligence, our attorneys at The Eichholz Law Firm can help. Contact us today.