Toniquea Rivers, a 20-year-old resident of Trenton, NJ, had given birth to a baby boy born prematurely, in her 28th week of pregnancy. Roughly one week later, a Capital Health EMS ambulance with paramedics responded to an emergency call at the home of her parents after Rivers had collapsed. On the way to Saint Francis Medical Center, paramedics placed an endotracheal tube in her windpipe which is used to maintain breathing and prevent suffocation.
Shortly after her arrival at the hospital, the medical staff discovered that the air tube had been improperly placed, which led to her death. A medical malpractice suit was filed in the Mercer County Superior Court, where ultimately a jury found that the paramedics had exhibited negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, and Capital Health was ordered to pay $6 million in damages. The award allocated $4 million to the plaintiff's estate and $2 million for her surviving child.
A unanimous verdict is not required in the venue, as seven of the eight jury members found the paramedics had demonstrated a failure in proper standards of treatment. An attorney for the plaintiff felt that the jury considered the potential and aspirations that the young woman had in reaching a verdict and awarding the economic and non-economic damages. The attorney further suggested that the case may be the first verdict ever rendered against paramedic responders in New Jersey.
Capital Health was found 85% liable for her death, with 15% found to have been caused by her pre-existing medical conditions. Rivers was employed at Chick-fil-A at the time of her death and is survived by her son named Zion, and the boy's father, Larry Howlen. The family's attorney recognized that it will be difficult for Zion to grow up without a mother; however, the child is fortunate to have a loving father and family support.
Overview of N.J. Medical Malpractice Statutes
The state requires that plaintiffs who bring a malpractice claim against a medical provider present an affidavit within a period of 60 days explaining that a reasonable likelihood exists that the defendant had failed to demonstrate an adequate level of care based on recognized occupational standards. This assessment must be made by an individual who satisfies the requirements necessary for providing expert testimony.
Medical malpractice actions must be initiated within the two-year statute of limitations period. Physicians are required to maintain professional liability coverage that equals $1 million per incident and $3 million for the year. The courts may employ alternative methods of resolving disputes in these actions including mediation and both binding and non-binding arbitration, which seeks to efficiently reach a solution that mutually satisfies all parties to the action.