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Parents Awarded $11M for the Wrongful Death of Their Baby

A jury found that a doctor and nurse at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center breached their standard of care and caused the unfortunate death of a premature infant. The jury awarded the parents nearly $11 million.

Kandace Watkins, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on January 3, 2023

Parents Awarded $11M for the Wrongful Death of Their Baby

On June 13, 2004, Danielle Bellerose gave birth to twin daughters, Katherine and Alexis. Katherine, born 30 weeks early and weighing only two pounds and seven ounces, was immediately taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was intubated to assist in breathing. After about two days of life and showing signs of improvement, Katherine was weaned from a ventilator. She progressed to breathing unassisted on day four of life.

The Background

On June 20, 2004, Bellerose and her husband John arrived at the NICU and “noticed something wrong” with Katherine. According to Danielle, Katherine’s skin appeared discolored and she was unresponsive. Danielle brought her concerns to the care team’s attention. The team assured her that they would continue to monitor Katherine’s condition. After noticing her condition worsening, the nurses eventually tested Katherine. They found that she was in shock caused by necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). NEC is a condition in which an immature bowel cannot handle the stress of feeding and becomes infected. Premature infants are at an increased risk of experiencing NEC. Katherine also had patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), a heart defect, which also puts infants at a higher risk for NEC.

Due to NEC, Katherine’s bowel perforated, which caused her blood to turn acidic. On June 21, 2004, an ambulance transported Katherine to the Children’s Hospital Boston. Physicians performed an unsuccessful surgery to remove her colon to prevent further damage. After multiple rounds of CPR to resuscitate Katherine, the physicians declared that she was dead later that morning, after eight days of life.

In the days following Katherine’s wrongful death, Danielle made three requests to meet with her daughter’s caregivers. Each request was denied. She also requested copies of her daughter’s medical records, which were not provided. Hearing nothing from the hospital, Danielle and her husband hired attorneys who were able to obtain copies of Katherine’s medical records. The attorneys had a physician and an expert witness review Katherine’s records. Without having interviewed the care team or hospital, the attorneys concluded that she suffered a premature and preventable death as a result of deviations from the accepted standards of care.

The Wrongful Death Action

Based upon the experts’ opinions, in 2006, the parents brought a wrongful death action on behalf of Katherine against two neonatologists, two nurse practitioners, and two registered nurses in Suffolk Superior Court. Their claim alleged that the care team in the NICU failed to recognize that their daughter’s health was deteriorating. They also claimed that the team took too long to perform the required surgery to treat her perforated bowel.

The plaintiffs further alleged that as a preterm baby with PDA, Katherine was at an increased risk of NEC. As such, her care team had a heightened standard of care given the increased risk. The plaintiffs also noted that Katherine was fed increasing amounts during feeding via a tube, which also put her at risk for NEC. According to the plaintiffs, the hospital should have paid closer attention to those signs and responded quicker to Katherine’s condition.

Conversely, the hospital argued that they met the appropriate standard of care, and Katherine’s health declined rapidly and unexpectedly. According to the hospital, the plaintiffs’ complaint offers no specific findings or evidence showing there were signs and symptoms of NEC. In fact, the hospital contended that there were no signs of NEC and that it arose in a fulminating way at the very end of care when there was nothing that could have saved Katherine’s life.

The Jury’s Decision

After a two-and-a-half-week trial and seven days of deliberation, the jury found that one doctor and one nurse, Dr. Janet Lloyd, and nurse practitioner Michele Ambrosino, were negligent in the care of Katherine. The jury awarded $50,000 for Katherine’s conscious pain and suffering. They also awarded $3.5 million to each of her parents for the loss of their individual relationships with her. Including interest, the total award is approximately $11.4 million, which was Massachusetts’ highest jury award that year.

Key Takeaways

Here, the plaintiffs brought their wrongful death action against six healthcare providers. However, the jury found that only two were negligent in their care. Due to increasing medical specialization in care and the use of large care teams, especially in intensive care settings, it can be difficult from the outset to determine who is responsible for the breach in care. As such, when bringing a claim, the plaintiffs’ attorneys should consider bringing the action against each member of the care team.

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