The plaintiffs sued the hospital for medical malpractice, alleging that an emergency cesarean section was performed prematurely, resulting in brain damage and permanent injuries to Ethan. The verdict, which will be reduced to $25.2 million in light of Maryland’s statutory cap on non-economic damages, is predominantly based on Ethan’s future medical expenses.
On December 13, 2018, plaintiff Tara Anderson, who was then pregnant, reported to the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson with lower abdominal cramping and back pain. According to the complaint, the medical tests administered to Anderson at the time did not indicate any signs of premature labor or placental abruption. The operative notes indicate that she did not have any contractions upon her admission to the labor and delivery floor, but was nonetheless diagnosed as being in preterm labor and fetal distress. As the complaint explains, “It is not uncommon for a patient with a cervical insufficiency to experience back pain, abdominal cramps or Braxton-Hicks-like contractions/uterine irritability. Such a presentation, however, is not to be confused with actual contractions or premature labor.” As a result of the misdiagnosis, an emergency cesarean section was performed on Anderson, who was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. Shortly after Ethan’s delivery, he indicated signs of brain damage. Ethan’s brain damage is permanent, and he will require life-long care and support.
The hospital’s attending physician, Eshanjit Sapra, has maintained that the cesarean section was medically necessary. The hospital has also stood by its diagnosis, stating that, “with serious medical complications putting the mother and baby’s lives in danger, including life-threatening placental abruption and pre-term labor, there was no reasonable option other than to deliver Ethan at 23 weeks gestation. Absent the heroic efforts of our team that day, Ethan would not have survived.” The hospital further notes that, “[a]t the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center, our goal is always to ensure the delivery of safe, quality care for all of our patients and we stand strongly behind the care rendered by our team during a very challenging medical emergency.”
The Trial and Verdict
The Andersons filed a lawsuit alleging that the hospital and attending physician acted negligently and also failed to secure informed consent before performing the emergency cesarean section. After a two-week trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury found in favor of the Andersons and awarded them a nearly $34 million verdict. The bulk of the damages award was for Ethan’s future medical expenses, of which the jury awarded the Andersons $20 million. They were awarded $3 million for Ethan’s lost earnings potential and $915,000 for past medical expenses. The Andersons were also awarded $10 million for pain and suffering, but that amount is expected to be reduced to around $1.3 million due to Maryland’s damages cap.
Plaintiffs’ attorney, Jon S. Stefanuca of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, expressed satisfaction with the verdict, noting that “[t]his case was a very good example that the jury system works.” “This is the right outcome in the right case…This verdict could not go to a more deserving family,” Stefanuca added, while also maintaining that the verdict was far from extravagant, but rather, “necessitated by the child’s needs to have any quality of life.” The University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center released a statement that: “We respect the jury’s verdict but are disappointed in their decision.” The hospital did note that “we feel compassion for Ethan Anderson and the Anderson family, and recognize they face obstacles that few can appreciate.”
The Anderson case is an illustrative example of how noneconomic damages caps work and why expert witnesses are so critical in establishing a damages award. Per Maryland statute, noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, such as pain and suffering, are statutorily limited and based on the year in which the claim arose. For claims arising in 2021, for example, the damages cap is $845,000 and in 2022, the cap is $860,000. Each year, the statutory limit increases $15,000. Noneconomic damages caps are largely the product of tort reform pioneered by doctor advocacy groups and insurance companies, in efforts to keep costs lower and to avoid excessive jury awards. Because there are no caps for economic damages, such as medical expenses and loss of earnings (or in Ethan’s case, earnings potential), it is all the more important to ensure that every economic damages claim is adequately pled and supported by evidence.
Medical experts in the fields of life planning and long-term care can help itemize future costs and expenses associated with a permanent disability and injury. As indicated by the Anderson’s nearly $24 million award of economic damages, quantifiable, itemized damages are a critical part of any medical malpractice lawsuit involving long-term injuries.