Corradina Baldacchino and Ian Harker were parents that became plaintiffs in a medical malpractice case in U.S. District Court in Johnstown. A jury awarded the parents $47 million, among the largest in Pennsylvania state history. The defendants, Dr. John Chan and Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, were shown to have demonstrated negligence resulting in the permanent disfigurement of a five-year-old girl.
The newborn was experiencing swelling on the head and Chan had the child's head firmly wrapped in ACE-style bandaging. This caused permanent deformities and much of her head was then unable to grow hair. Judge Kim Gibson recently in a U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania allowed a motion from the defendants to reduce the award to roughly $16 million.
Ms. Baldacchino was in from out-of-state visiting family in the region over Christmas when she suddenly went into premature labor. She gave birth at Memorial Medical Center while under the care of Dr. Chan. Chan realized that the baby's head was swollen and hemorrhaged and then the bandaging was tightly applied. Testimony confirmed that this was clearly not within the current standards for medical treatment in the field. The pressure to the external head of the baby restricted blood flow to the region and caused the breakdown of tissue.
Dr. Chan had spent over 30 years practicing in the field of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. Chan's testimony acknowledged that his actions were not in accordance with current medical standards. The plaintiffs suggested that this was a technique formerly used in the Philippines, his homeland. Judge Gibson agreed that the evidence against the defendants was “overwhelming” and said that the defense expressed no alternate theory of the cause of the injury. In recent years, the child whose name was not disclosed underwent several surgical procedures to improve the condition, yet these efforts had minimal positive effects.
Victim's Current Status
Today the young girl is still unable to generate hair growth on various parts of her head and visible scars remain. Tissue expanders, which are similar to balloons, were implanted to assist in reshaping her head. In the recent court action, it was stated that her head deformities will slightly improve once these expanders are removed in a few years. The court confirmed that the girl did not incur an actual brain injury, experience delays in normal cognitive development, or suffer from other mental deficiencies.
The court determined that the large award was excessive based on the severity of the injury, which is mostly cosmetic in nature. The plaintiffs argued that although a mostly cosmetic problem, she will potentially endure bullying and likely suffer from low self-esteem throughout her youth. Gibson referred to the award as “unsupported by the evidence and shocks the judicial conscience." The plaintiffs were afforded 14 days to appeal for a new trial. Although there were no prior cases that were very similar to this one, the amount of damages was comparatively higher than those of similar severity. This was the basis used to explain the reduction of the award, which obviously is a disappointment to the plaintiffs.