A medical malpractice lawsuit was filed in Arkansas by the parents of a child who suffered irreversible brain damage after being born via a cesarean section in 2014. The case, was originally filed in 2015.
The plaintiffs, Karl and Candice Smalls, filed the lawsuit on behalf of their daughter Kara Smalls. Kara was delivered by Dr. Johnathan Lewis in 2014. However, the plaintiffs claim that Dr. Lewis failed to properly follow up on a blood test that indicated a high risk of extreme jaundice. Jaundice is a treatable, but life threatening and brain damaging condition. Candice Smalls had a child with a similar condition in the past.
At trial, the plaintiffs provided evidence that a nurse had noticed slight jaundice but continued to discharge Candice and Kara from the hospital with instructions to return 10 days later but provided no care instructions for jaundice.
A few days after the initial hospital discharge, Candice stated that her Kara was lethargic and seemed to be in pain. She left a phone message to Dr. Lewis’ clinic. The message was returned by a nurse who advised Candice to call back the next morning. After finally arranging an appointment with Dr. Lewis, blood was drawn and the doctor noted the child had jaundice and sent Candice and Kara home. After Dr. Lewis received the results from the blood test, he called the Smalls and instructed the parents to take Kara to the hospital. The Smalls followed directions and treatment to reduce high bilirubin levels began. Later that afternoon, Kara was transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. By that time, Kara had been exposed to the high bilirubin levels for too great a time and suffered an irreversible brain injury as a result.
The Smalls claimed in their lawsuit that Dr. Lewis and his staff were negligent by ignoring the initially high bilirubin levels and failing to do a repeat blood test before discharging the family from the hospital.
The defendants argued that doctors and hospitals in Arkansas weren’t subject to meeting national standards of care for the jaundice condition. However, the plaintiffs argued that newborns in South Arkansas should benefit from a national standard.
Ultimately, the jury sided with the plaintiffs. 11 of the 12 jurors felt that Dr. Lewis was negligent and all 12 of the jurors agreed the medical center had been negligent. The jury awarded $43 million in damages.
It should be noted that a vote will take place in 2018 pertaining to the negligent treatment of a newborn. Under consideration is limiting non-economic damages to $500,000.