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Erie Jury Awards $4.1 Million In Stillbirth Malpractice Case

Dec 13, 2002 | NEPA NEWS

A jury ordered an obstetrician to pay $4.1 million for a botched delivery in which a baby was stillborn after his mother developed an infection in March 1999.

An expert testified at trial that Dr. David Beaton of Erie should have ordered a Caesarean section about 22 hours into Mary Ellen Brown's labor once the child's heart began racing and Brown's fever escalated.

Instead, Beaton waited another 20 hours, by which time the baby's blood was poisoned by the infection, said Leonard Ambrose, an attorney for Brown and her husband, Richard, of Girard.

Metro Health Center had reached an unspecified monetary settlement with the couple, and Beaton had conceded at trial that his negligence harmed the couple. The jury was left to determine the amount of damages the couple should receive.

Beaton's attorney, Thomas Lent, declined to comment after the verdict.

Ambrose said the verdict is a record malpractice award in Erie County, a claim that could not immediately be independently confirmed after the verdict Thursday.

The verdict is more than triple the statutory $1.2 million limit for malpractice awards in Pennsylvania, which is paid by a doctor's primary malpractice insurance and money from the state medical care fund.

Dr. Thomas Falasca, president of the Erie County Medical Society, said the size of the award could have an impact on malpractice insurance premiums.

"An award like this may increase premiums across the state," Falasca said. "The physicians in this area may also be place in a higher risk group and have to pay higher premiums."

The Browns now plan to seek state licensing discipline against Beaton.

"I think when you go to the doctor, you assume you are going to be treated properly and competently," Richard Brown said.

The Browns have since had two children since their son, whom they named Jacob, was stillborn.

"It brings closure, acquiring justice for my son, when he can't speak for himself," Mary Ellen Brown said.

Several jurors stayed after the trial to meet the Browns, and shared a plate of cookies with them.

"I think the jury just felt there was an extreme amount of gross negligence on the part of Dr. Beaton," jury foreman Richard Travers said. "I think we want to believe that most doctors take an oath to do no harm. In this case, that oath was extremely broke."


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