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Child wins huge damages over medical care

A jury's verdict against Verdugo Hills Hospital may bring him a lifetime award of $96 million.

July 04, 2007|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

A Glendale Superior Court civil jury has awarded an estimated $96 million in future damages in the case of a child who developed a rare but serious neurological disorder caused by untreated jaundice shortly after his birth four years ago at Verdugo Hills Hospital.

The jury's 9-3 verdict, which came late Monday, is calculated in two ways. The current value of the award is $15 million, but it is expected to reach $96 million over the course of medical care for the boy during his lifetime, said attorneys for Aidan Ming-Ho Leung. That would make it one of the largest jury awards in recent California court history, according to a website that tracks the top jury awards.

Michael Thomas, a lawyer for the nonprofit hospital, said the award would be appealed. Thomas also said he would seek a mistrial based on what he said were jury deliberation irregularities and other problems involving the court's receipt of evidence. He declined to elaborate.

Aidan was born March 24, 2003, at Verdugo Hills Hospital under the care of Dr. Steven Wayne Nishibayashi, who also was listed as a defendant in the case.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 12, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Malpractice: An article in the Business section on July 4 said California had a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards. The 1975 law caps at $250,000 the amount a patient can recover for noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering and disfigurement. There is no cap on economic damages, such as lost wages and medical expenses.

According to the lawsuit, Aidan exhibited several risk factors for kernicterus, a neurological disorder that can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy and hearing loss, when he developed jaundice shortly after birth. The jaundice was a sign of the buildup of bilirubin, a yellow bile pigment, produced in greater quantities than a baby's liver can excrete.

The hospital and the doctor, the plaintiff's attorneys argued, should have been alert to that possibility and given him appropriate medical treatment to reduce the bilirubin buildup.

Aidan's parents were concerned just days after his birth because he became lethargic and was barely feeding, said Aidan's attorney, Luan K. Phan, but they were told that the jaundice would go away by itself. Phan said the hospital gave the parents a pamphlet that said jaundice did not produce a serious medical risk. Instead, Phan said, Aidan wound up in an emergency room at another hospital, where two attempts to remove the buildup through blood transfusions failed.

Aidan's condition "was never on the radar of the doctors and nurses" at Verdugo Hills Hospital, Phan said.

The hospital presented a dramatically different version of events. Thomas said that Aidan was born healthy and that his mother requested a discharge from the hospital while he was still in excellent health. When she left with Aidan, the baby was then beyond the hospital's responsibility, Thomas said.

"It's the hospital's position that they did nothing wrong and that all follow-up care was out of their hands," Thomas said.

Aidan, now 4, requires constant medical attention, said Phan, whose firm employs Aidan's father.

"He has normal intelligence, but he can't walk. He can't talk, can't feed himself. He can't control a single muscle and it was all preventable," Phan said.

Lawyers USA Online, which covers court decisions, legislation and litigation trends, said the largest California verdict last year was a $106-million award to the family of a murder victim seeking to prevent a defendant from profiting from book or movie deals. That award was reduced to $16 million and is on appeal.

California has a $250,000 cap on medical malpractice awards. It was unclear how the limit would affect Monday's jury award.

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ron.white@latimes.com

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