A jury recently ruled in favor of a young mother and her baby with cerebral palsy, awarding the highest verdict yet in the U.S. for medical malpractice. The woman, Erica Byrom, gave birth at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore in 2014. Her doctors made a mistake, resulting in the baby suffering brain damage and developing cerebral palsy with lifelong disabilities. The jury in a trial awarded her a record $229.6 million.
Largest Medical Malpractice Verdict in U.S. History
Erica Byrom went through a lawsuit to get justice for her disabled child after medical mistakes led to the little girl’s serious brain damage. The jury agreed after just a two-week trial that Byrom and her daughter were owed damages and that medical negligence contributed to the little girl’s condition.
Zubida Byrom is not likely to ever be able to walk or even to talk much. To eat she needs to use a feeding tube. To account for the harm caused to her, the jury awarded Byrom record $229.6 million. Due to Maryland laws that amount is expected to be reduced to closer to $200 million, although that amount is still a record. The money will help Byrom provide Zubida with the best treatments, necessary medical and mobility equipment, and in-home care.
How Negligence Caused Cerebral Palsy
Byrom was just 16 when she delivered Zubida. Doctors at Southern Maryland Hospital Center diagnosed her with preeclampsia and dangerously high blood pressure at just 25 weeks. This can present serious risks to the mother and baby, so she was flown to Johns Hopkins Bayview for more care.
At Bayview doctors told Byrom that her baby would suffer brain damage or not survive at all. As a result of this prognosis she did not choose to have an immediate C-section. Instead, labor was induced and Zubida was born in two days. She weighed just 1.5 pounds with no heartbeat.
Doctors got her heart started with compressions and put in a breathing tube but still suffered significant brain damage from loss of oxygen. Later it was discovered that the initial prognosis was false, and that if Byrom had been given the right information she would have had an emergency C-section. This would likely have prevented the brain damage.
Even Large Awards May Not Make Medicine Safer
These kinds of incidents happen all too often, and while the large award in the trial brings attention to medical malpractice and birth injuries, they do little to make patients safer. Medical mistakes are actually the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. Many more people, like Zubida, are seriously harmed by medical errors.
Large verdicts are useful for individuals and families, but most patients in malpractice cases are unsuccessful. They don’t win awards, and even the big awards do little to change the system. Some states, Maryland included, have pushed for state funds that would provide care for babies injured during labor and delivery. Only two states, Florida and Virginia, have successfully started such statewide funds.
The case of the Byroms is tragic because all the money in the world can’t make Zubida well again. And yet they are more fortunate than some families who are unable to fight the system and win. If you have a child born with cerebral palsy, consult with a lawyer to find out what your legal options are.