Baltimore Jury Awards Record $229 Million Medical Malpractice Verdict for Child’s Brain Injury

A young mother and her child were awarded $229 million after a Baltimore jury found that the doctors' negligence in the management of a young mother's labor resulted in the baby's permanent brain damage.

Baltimore Jury Awards Record $229 Million Medical Malpractice Verdict for Child’s Brain Injury
Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written byDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

- Updated onFebruary 15, 2023

Baltimore Jury Awards Record $229 Million Medical Malpractice Verdict for Child’s Brain Injury

A Baltimore jury awarded $229 million to a child born with permanent brain damage and her mother, in what the plaintiff’s attorneys say is the largest medical malpractice verdict ever recorded in the United States.

Maryland’s medical malpractice damages caps will reduce the size of the award. However, attorneys expect the final amount to reach nearly $200 million—another record-setting sum.

A Record-Setting Verdict

The $229.6 million award total may be the highest yet recorded in the United States. The amount reflects the costs of lifelong care for the injured infant and the impact that providing that care has on the child’s mother.

The verdict, while large, is not unprecedented. Awards in catastrophic medical malpractice claims have been climbing in recent years. Examples include a $21 million award in another Baltimore case for another infant born with cerebral palsy from oxygen deprivation during birth. In 2012, a Baltimore city jury awarded $45 million in another cerebral palsy birth case. At the time, the $45 million award was one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts ever recorded in Maryland.

Other states are seeing increased awards as well. In August 2021, a New Mexico jury awarded $73.2 million in a birth injury case not unlike this one.

The Case Background

The events that set this historic case in motion occurred years ago. Plaintiff Erica Byrom, then 16 years old, presented at Johns Hopkins Bayview. She was pregnant and suffering symptoms of preeclampsia. This blood pressure condition can cause injuries to both parent and child if left unchecked.

Doctors who examined Byrom informed her that unless the baby was delivered promptly, the child would likely not survive. If the baby did survive, she would suffer permanent brain damage. Facing this dire situation, Byrom declined a C-section, instead allowing doctors to induce labor to deliver her baby.

During the delivery, the infant suffered from a lack of oxygen. The child, whom Byrom named Zubida, was born with permanent brain injuries—precisely the outcome that Byrom sought to prevent.

Zubida now has cerebral palsy, a lifelong neurological disability that affects muscle control. She needs constant care and may need that care for the rest of her life.

At trial, Byrom’s and Zubida’s attorneys, Mary Koch, Keith Forman, and Sarah Smith of Wais, Vogelstein, Forman, Koch & Norman, argued that Johns Hopkins was negligent in its management of Byrom’s labor. They argued that if it wasn’t for this negligence, Zubida would not have suffered cerebral palsy. The jury agreed, awarding the mother and child a record-setting $229.6 million in damages.

The Future of the Verdict and the Case

Johns Hopkins continues to assert that its physicians didn’t violate the standard of care in treating Byrom and her daughter. Rather, attorneys for Johns Hopkins stated that the hospital staff warned Byrom several times of the risks associated with Byrom’s decision to induce labor rather than have an emergency C-section. The hospital’s attorneys state that they plan to appeal the verdict.

Maryland’s medical malpractice damages caps will also affect the final award. The cap on non-economic damages in Maryland medical malpractice claims is currently $875,000 for cases arising in 2023. There is no cap on economic damages.

With the cap applied, however, the verdict remains among the highest medical malpractice verdicts ever recorded. The capped amount is expected to total approximately $200 million.

Key Takeaways from This Case

The fact that the verdict, in this case, breaks records even under Maryland’s non-economic damages cap demonstrates the value of focusing on economic damages in catastrophic injury cases.

In this case, economic damages included a lifetime of impact on both Byrom, a young mother, and her daughter, injured from birth. The damages reflect the need for a lifetime of care for Zubida and the costs associated with that care, which would otherwise be borne by Zubida’s mother.

As healthcare costs continue to rise, a focus on the economic impact of ongoing medical care provides essential information for juries. This information allows a jury to understand the real day-to-day cost of medical malpractice and to set its award amounts accordingly.

Editor’s Note: The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland later overturned the jury’s award in this case.