A young couple decided to have their first baby at home so they could have an intimate birth experience. They sought the care of doctors who claimed to specialize in home births. When the baby was born in the early morning on a Friday, they had no idea of the tragedy that was about to befall them and their newborn child. The doctor obtained a cord blood sample from the placenta, the same as would have been done at any maternity hospital. The plaintiff’s investigation showed that the doctor merely took the sample home and placed it in his refrigerator rather than sending it to the lab to be tested.
Usually, such a sample is automatically sent to a laboratory to determine whether the baby has been exposed to any incompatible blood from his mother. This information is important to help the doctors diagnose and treat the baby should any of his mother’s blood begin to break down the baby’s blood, causing a condition of hyperbilirubinemia. This is typically seen as jaundice or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Failure to correct jaundice in a timely fashion can cause the baby to have kernicterus or brain damage. Such brain damage can result in seizures, convulsions, uncontrolled high pitched screaming or extreme crying, and permanent brain damage.
The day after the birth, the nurse from the doctor’s office came to see the baby. The parents expressed concern over their baby’s apparent yellow color but were told that was typical for breastfed babies. Nothing was done to treat the baby for his rising level of jaundice. The nurse returned the following day, the second day after the birth. Again, the parents expressed their concern about their baby’s apparent yellowing color. Again, the nurse — after speaking to the doctor — reassured the parents that the baby’s color was typical for breastfed babies. Nothing was done to treat the baby for his rising level of jaundice.
On Monday, the third day after birth, the parents first brought their son to the doctor’s clinic, but after not receiving any assistance they brought him to the hospital. At the hospital emergency room, the parents found out that the baby had severe hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice) which was already causing their son’s brain to be damaged.
In the meantime, the doctor took the cord blood sample from his refrigerator and sent it to the lab for emergency testing. The cord blood sample showed that the baby had been exposed to his mother’s incompatible blood during the birth process and that his mother’s blood was breaking down the baby’s blood.
At trial, the plaintiffs showed how the parents suffered through the trauma of caring for their son at the hospital for several days while the hospital tried to reduce the baby’s jaundice to prevent even more brain damage from occurring. As a result of the kernicterus, the parents had to stand by their son as he screamed inconsolably in pain. They were unable to hold and comfort him as any physical contact would only cause more pain. When they were finally able to bring him home, they watched him carefully. Unfortunately, the brain damage he had suffered affected the nerves and muscles in his throat. A mere 16 days after his birth, the baby died when his throat closed up and prevented him from breathing.
The home healthcare nurse, who also had been sued settled the claim against her for her insurance policy of $500,000. The case against the doctors and clinic was tried to a jury. The plaintiffs asked the jury for an award of approximately $31,500,000. The jury rendered a verdict for $30,000,000, including $9,500,000 to each parent for the loss of their relationship to son and $11,000,000 to the Estate of the baby for pain and suffering.
This verdict for the death of a minor is one of the highest for such an injury in the country. The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin recognized Mr. Heath for this verdict with its Jury Verdict Award.