$19,200,000 Awarded to a Florida Girl Who Suffered Profound Developmental Problems When a Hospital Administered the Wrong Dosage of Medication

Negligence can take several forms in obstetrics. Sometimes, the most egregious errors can be difficult to detect until it's too late. Physicians may make seemingly small mistakes on key calculations, which, in turn, could lead to severe medical problems - especially when providing care for already vulnerable newborns. Such was the case with Kiarra Smith, who has suffered greatly due to the use of excessively strong nutrients in her neonatal solution. In 2009, Kiarra's family sought both compensation and justice in a case that was heard not only by the Circuit Court of Lee County in Florida, but also by the state's appellate court. The case was concluded in 2011, with the verdict giving hope to others, who, like the Smiths, have seen their children suffer considerably due to medical negligence.

Case History

Kiarra Smith was born prematurely at a hospital operated by Lee Memorial in 2007. Immediately following delivery, she was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where she was given a neonatal nutritional solution. Soon after, she went into cardiac arrest and suffered severe metabolic acidosis.

Initially, when a neonatologist prescribed Neonatal Parenteral Nutrition (PN), vitamins and trace elements were supposed to be included based on Kiarra's body weight. To begin, she received the solution without suffering any complications. Nearly two weeks after she was born, however, an updated physician listed her weight incorrectly, causing her solution to be calculated inaccurately. This, in turn, led to her severe reaction, and, according to her parents, years of continued suffering.

Two years after Kiarra's birth and overdose, the Smith family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of their daughter, claiming that the nutritional solution that she was given while in NICU had been incorrectly calculated, causing her to receive an overdose of the following elements:

  • Zinc
  • Cysteine
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Chromium
  • Selenium

Kiarra's parents believed that, as a result of this overdose, she suffered developmental delays, spastic quadriparetic cerebral palsy, and permanent neurological damage. In their lawsuit, the Smiths sought damages to cover not only the medical costs associated with their daughter's ongoing care, but also compensation for pain and suffering and loss of earning capacity. Additionally, the family sought coverage for loss of consortium, which refers to the deprivation of benefits from a potential family relationship that was impacted by Kiarra's injuries.

While Lee Memorial admitted to failing to meet a certain standard of care, representatives from the health system claimed that the solution given to Kiarra Smith was not directly responsible for her later suffering.

The Verdict

On February 4th, 2011, the Smith family emerged victorious, with the court awarding a total of $19,200,000. This award can be broken down as follows:

  • $2,600,000 to cover medical expenses before Kiarra turns 18
  • $1,900,000 to cover medical expenses after the age of 18
  • $600,000 for the loss of earning ability
  • $5,000,000 for bodily injury and pain and suffering
  • $3,000,000 to account for the loss of consortium for Jeffrey Smith
  • $6,000,000 to account for the loss of consortium for Melissa Smith
Appeals

During the initial case, the lower court denied Lee Memorial's protective order, which would have barred the Smith family's counsel from communicating with Kiarra's physicians in the absence of Lee Memorial's counsel. The appellate court ultimately confirmed the lower court's protective order denial, citing the Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-4.2.

Takeaways From Smith v. Lee Memorial Health Systems

A simple typo or transcription error can cause a world of suffering. This is clearly evidenced by the Smith family's notable medical malpractice case. While Kiarra Smith's premature birth and low birth weight placed her at an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy, the court has concluded that medical negligence ultimately played a significant role in the many issues she has since faced.

If there are any positive takeaways, it's that organizations such as Lee Memorial can be held accountable when employees fail to abide by a necessary standard of care. While the $19,200,000 awarded to the Smith family will in no way eliminate the suffering they've been forced to endure due to negligence, they can at least take solace in knowing that they have resources to cover ongoing medical expenses - and just as importantly, they can take pride in knowing that they've served justice on behalf of their beloved daughter.

This is just one of several recent cerebral palsy victories worth sharing. It serves as a valuable reminder of the role malpractice lawsuits can play in delivering justice and preventing future negligence in obstetrics. Hopefully, future infants will not endure Kiarra Smith's negligence-based suffering.