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Hospitals Settle In Death of Infant

Couple of Son Born With Brain Damage Will Get $5 Million

Dec 19, 2002 | SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER A couple whose son died after a problem delivery has settled with Swedish Medical Center, Providence Health Systems and the doctor involved for $5 million, their lawyers announced yesterday.

"We would obviously rather have Nathan than any amount of money," said Craig Jackman, whose infant son suffered brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen during birth. Nathan Jackman died when he was 10 months old from complications associated with his birth.

Swedish and Providence will split the payment evenly, Swedish spokesman Ed Boyle said.

The couple filed a lawsuit against Dr. Michael E. Greer and Swedish in November 2000, shortly after their baby's birth.

Providence was added to the lawsuit because it had operated the hospital until nine days prior to Swedish taking over. Providence administrators also knew about problems with Greer, according to the lawsuit the Jackmans filed. Among other things, a hospital committee had recommended revoking his privileges.

The Jackmans claimed that Greer was negligent and that his negligence led to Nathan's injuries and death.

"Although I am very sympathetic to the terrible loss experienced by the Jackman family, I feel that I did nothing improper in this delivery nor failed to do anything that was required by the standard of care," Greer said in a statement faxed to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "I chose to accept limited responsibility in this legal case in order to achieve a settlement that would involve no financial liability on my part."

The Jackmans also claimed that the hospitals were negligent because they knew of Greer's problems, but allowed him to continue practicing.

Greer is no longer affiliated with Swedish.

Lawyers for Swedish and Providence acknowledged negligence and that this negligence led to Nathan's injuries and eventual death. The hospitals accepted a finding of negligence in part to spare the Jackman family from additional distress.

"Everybody involved from our end just feels so sympathetic for the Jackmans on the loss of their son," said attorney Rebecca Ringer, who represented Providence in the suit.

Another factor was the uncertainty of how a jury would rule.

In February, Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, Stevens Radiologists and an ultrasound-device manufacturer settled with a Lynwood family for $13 million after the family alleged mistakes during the delivery of their daughter. The child survived, but with severe brain damage.

"Defendants Swedish and Providence recognize that the outcome of a trial is uncertain and recognize the size of certain jury verdicts in similar cases," the attorneys wrote in a September document.

The Jackmans' problems began July 10, 2000, when Elizabeth Jackman was admitted to Providence Seattle Medical Center for delivery of her second child. Greer also delivered her first child, by Caesarean section, but she had no problems that time.

Unknown to the Jackmans, Greer had run into trouble with his practice. In 1997, he resigned from Swedish Medical Center after a committee investigated patient complaints and recommended revoking his privileges, according to court documents.

Greer began practicing at Providence, but within a year had to sign an agreement to limit his obstetrics practice. Greer was still under those limits when he began to care for Elizabeth Jackman, although the restrictions expired just days before Nathan's birth.

Greer still did not have privileges to practice at the hospital, said Robert Gellatly, who represented the Jackmans in the lawsuit.

"He was in the walls of that hospital in violation of the law," Gellatly said.

The Jackmans knew none of this when Elizabeth Jackman entered Providence for an induced labor. Greer was the admitting physician.

About 3 p.m., a new nurse was assigned to care for Elizabeth Jackman, although she was considered a high-risk patient because of the previous Caesarean section. The nurse, watching a heart monitor, became concerned about the baby's stress level and contacted Greer.

About 6 p.m., the nurse tried to page Greer because of her growing concerns about the baby's condition. Greer did not respond to the page.

The physician arrived at the hospital about 7 p.m. and continued to wait, despite what one nurse said was an alarming fetal heart rate pattern.

In his statement yesterday, Greer disputed the nurses' account, saying, "In my view, the nursing staff should have arranged for earlier intervention when there were indications of serious concerns."

At 7:45 p.m., Greer delivered the child.

Nathan had no heartbeat and was not breathing when he was born blue and limp.

"He was just floppy," Elizabeth Jackman said.

Although resuscitated, Nathan suffered brain damage as a result of the lack of oxygen.

Doctors came to believe that Nathan was blind and deaf. And Nathan had other difficulties that required numerous medications and constant care. His breathing was labored and difficult, requiring his mother and father to clear his throat with a suction tube. The damage to his brain and body were severe.

"They didn't know if he'd ever walk," Craig Jackman said.

Nathan died May 29, 2001.

About 450 to 500 medical negligence cases are filed in Washington each year, according to Sue Evans of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. When cases are filed, they often are settled and usually quietly, with confidentiality clauses common, she said.

The Jackmans' lawyers refused to agree to a gag clause, because the firm felt a need to inform the public about what had happened in the case, Gellatly said.

"Swedish failed in its first and foremost duty to protect the patient," he said. "They dropped the ball."

Dr. Nancy Auer, vice president of medical affairs for Swedish, said changes have been made since Nathan's death.

There is now greater education of medical staff along the chain of command, so that concerns about patient care are better heard, she said.

"The mission of Swedish is to improve the health and well-being of each patient we serve," Auer said. "And when something goes awry, we're awfully sorry. Our hearts go out to the Jackman family."

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