$120 Million Verdict: Detroit Hospital Held Accountable for Birth Injury Resulting in Cerebral Palsy

DETROI, MI — Kirsten Drake, a Detroit mother, pursued legal action against Henry Ford Health System, winning a $120 million settlement this March after her son suffered severe birth injuries in 2010. The significant compensation comes as acknowledgment of the hospital’s alleged delayed medical response during the child’s delivery, which the family contends led to lifelong medical complications.

In June 2010, Drake, then 20 and pregnant with her son, K’Jon, was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital. Despite showing no initial signs of labor, troubling signs from a fetal monitor led doctors to recommend an immediate cesarean section. However, the procedure was not performed for over two hours, during which time K’Jon experienced critical oxygen deprivation, leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and other severe health issues.

K’Jon, now 13 years old, requires constant care, severely impacted by developmental delays, visual impairments, and a chronic seizure disorder. The court documents note that his expected lifespan might only slightly exceed 50 years due to his conditions. The burden of his care primarily falls on Drake and her mother, with Michigan’s health services compensating the grandmother for her caregiver role.

The lawsuit, filed in 2020, pointed to a “negligent failure to provide appropriate obstetrical care” by the attending staff, including Dr. Leila Hajjar-Nolan and four nurses working during the delivery. The legal timeline stretched beyond typical statutes of limitations for medical malpractice due to exceptions Michigan law makes for birth-related injuries.

During a three-week trial beginning on March 4, 2024, expert witnesses testified about the staff’s failure to act quickly in the face of non-reassuring fetal monitor patterns, breaching the standard medical care expected. The jury responded by holding Henry Ford Health System liable, factoring in extensive future medical costs and non-economic damages into their calculation for the monumental $120 million award.

Despite this verdict, Henry Ford Health System has announced intentions to appeal. The institution released a statement expressing sympathy for the Drake family, yet adamantly disagreeing with the jury’s conclusions about the facts of the case. They pledged to “vigorously appeal” the decision.

Brian McKeen, representing Drake, argued that such a regrettable incident was not only foreseeable but entirely preventable. He expressed hope that the dramatic conclusion to this tragic case would resonate within the obstetric community, underlining the importance of swift actions during labor and delivery emergencies.

This case highlights a growing judicial trend of large malpractice awards, with other similar cases seen nationwide. States without caps on damages have experienced significant payouts, which sparks ongoing debates about the benefits of imposing limits. Discussions in state legislatures are expected to continue, addressing whether capping damages serves the best interests of patients and affects the broader medical community.

Adjustments to malpractice laws or damage caps could also impact medical professionals indirectly through changes in insurance premium costs. As legal landscapes shift, observers and participants in the healthcare sector are advised to stay informed about potential changes that could affect their operations and personal finances.