Hospital Settles $12 Million Negligence Lawsuit

Nurses, OB/GYN violated hospital policies, leading to permanent brain damage of newborn, attorneys said

By Jeff Goldblatt and Lindsay Smith
|  Saturday, Jun 30, 2012  |  Updated 9:45 AM CDT
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A hospital and doctor agree to pay millions after mistakes during delivery of a woman's daughter brain-damaged and in need of constant care. Jeff Goldblatt spoke with the mother, Kari Cavanaugh.

A hospital and doctor agree to pay millions after mistakes during delivery of a woman's daughter brain-damaged and in need of constant care. Jeff Goldblatt spoke with the mother, Kari Cavanaugh.

A south suburban hospital and an obstetrician have agreed to pay $12 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged the doctor and nurses violated hospital policy, leading to the permanent brain damage of a now 9-year-old girl.

"I didn’t realize anything was wrong until labor, when I was asking questions about certain things," Kari Cavanaugh said Friday from her attorney's offices at Schafer and Schafer in Merrillville, Ind.

Like many soon-to-be mothers, Cavanaugh was given Pitocin, a powerful drug used to expedite labor. But as the delivery neared, Advocate South Suburban Hospital, by its own policies, should have discontinued the drug.

Instead, nurses increased the dosage, causing irreversible brain damage to little Maria Cavanaugh, said attorney Tim Schafer.

"The fetal monitoring strip showed the baby was a healthy, viable child when she was first administered to the hospital, when she first went into labor," Schafer said. "Had they simply recognized the fetal distress and discontinued the Pitocin and delivered the child by C-section, the irreversible brain damage would have been avoided."

Maria Cavanaugh now lives with cerebral palsy and is confined to a bed or a wheelchair. She cannot walk, talk, sit up, roll over, feed herself, bathe herself, dress herself, or perform any personal hygiene. She also cannot hear or see properly and suffers from incontinence.

Advocate South Suburban Hospital will pay $11 million and the obstetrician named in the suit will pay $1 million in the settlement to cover all of the girl's nursing care, physical therapy and medical equipment and supplies throughout her life.

"Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Cavanaugh family," wrote hospital spokesman Nate Llewellyn in a statement. "We have closely examined this event and have learned from it. We have used our findings to help ensure a safe environment of care."

Schafer applauded the hospital for making amends after all of these years. 

"I think it was a fair and reasonable settlement.  And I’m giving the hospital credit because they stepped up to the plate at the end," he said.

Kari Cavanaugh acknowledged that no amount of money will give her daughter a normal life, but said it'll at least provide for her lifelong care.

"Anything that she needs, she’ll have," the mother said.

Cavanaugh said her daughter attends special needs classes and said she loves family, music and what she can see of The Disney Channel.

"She's a very loving child. She's very happy always. .. Even though she's still impaired, she still has very loving characteristics," she said.

After legal costs are paid, the remaining funds will be put into a restrict trust account for the girl.

When asked what the future holds for her daughter, Kari Cavanaugh had a simple response: "To grow. To be happy."

Doctors said they expect Maria to live to be no older than 50 years.

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