Jury Awards $3 Million in Newborn Cerebral Palsy Case

Fetal monitoringCerebral palsy is a complex medical condition that can lead to serious, life-altering outcomes for the child affected. A child with a diagnosis of CP may experience difficulty in movement, range of motion, spasticity, and with vision, hearing, and speech. Unfortunately, some cases of cerebral palsy directly result from medical malpractice. In a recent case that made it to the New York Supreme Court, a jury awarded $3 million to a teenager who suffered brain damage during her birth and eventually received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

Who was the Case Against?

Dr. Stephen Serlin, an obstetrician in Lake George, NY, had to pay $3 million in damages to Marlayna Kineke in exchange for the lifetime of medical issues she suffered because of his negligence. The patient, who was eighteen years old at the time of the suit, has cerebral palsy among a host of other developmental issues. After hearing three weeks of testimony, jurors ultimately found Kineke's issues almost exclusively linked back to a C-section Serlin performed in 1993.

At the heart of the argument was that there was a significant delay between the apparent need for a C-section and the actual delivery by Kineke. According to court papers, Serlin reported that he performed a cesarean section at the appropriate time, yet medical records show that Kineke was in distress for up to four hours before her delivery.

According to expert witnesses and the plaintiff, Kineke suffered from fetal hypoxia during delivery. This serious condition occurs when a child loses access to oxygen during the labor and delivery process. At times, it can be difficult to detect, but it’s one reason why mothers and their babies experience extensive monitoring during labor.

The longer fetal hypoxia occurs, the more likely it is that an infant will sustain serious and permanent brain damage. Prolonged fetal hypoxia can lead to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which is irreversible. Fetal monitoring is one of the best ways to prevent this condition from occurring.

Why did They win the Case?

The Kineke’s ultimately won the case because a jury decided that, based on a preponderance of the evidence; it was more likely than not that Dr. Serlin committed medical malpractice. In order to successfully pursue a medical malpractice case, all of the following must apply:

  • Duty – the doctor in question owed a duty of care to the patient.
  • Breach – he or she breached his or her duty of care by deviating from an established standard of care.
  • Cause – this deviation from the care standard was the proximal cause of the plaintiff’s injuries
  • Harm – the family suffered harm as a result, usually in the form of monetary damages.
The Costs of a Cerebral Palsy Diagnosis

Cerebral palsy takes a toll on the child, both physically and emotionally. Children with a diagnosis of CP are more likely to suffer complications such as osteoporosis and osteopenia, scoliosis, lordosis, and chronic pain. Other comorbid diagnoses may also be present, such as apraxia of speech or development, or issues with hearing and vision.

Proper treatment of cerebral palsy requires medical and rehabilitative intervention to address both the physical and developmental issues that may present as a result of the condition. A child with cerebral palsy can expect to receive:

  • Physical therapy to lengthen the muscles, encourage range of motion, and reduce spasticity
  • Occupational therapy to help children achieve activities of daily living essential to attending school such as dressing, holding a writing utensil, using the bathroom, and washing hands
  • Speech therapy to overcome any speaking challenges that result from neurologic damage

Additionally, some children can expect to receive surgical intervention to lengthen any muscles or to reduce the hypertonia that occurs from irregular nerve activity.

The annual costs of these interventions can be thousands of dollars, even with insurance coverage. In some cases, insurers will refuse to pay certain costs altogether, leaving families to pay for costs out of pocket.

The Kineke’s say they will put the $3 million from the case into a trust to pay for Marlayna’s care. Due to the serious nature of her developmental delays, she will require assistive care and services into adulthood. This court judgment will continue to allow her to attend therapy and improve her quality of life by taking financial uncertainty off the table.

Civil court cases like these serve to protect families from the negative consequences of medical malpractice. Though a financial settlement cannot heal Marlayna, it does open more doors in terms of care and accommodation. The civil justice system plays an important role in helping families like Marlayna's find recompense for their monetary damages, as well as the intangible losses that result from the medical malpractice. Due to the nature of the case, a jury found it fitting to award $3 million for the damages that resulted from Dr. Serlin’s negligence.