A Prince William jury ordered a Manasass obstetrician yesterday to pay about $6 Million to a couple whose child was born with severe brain and lung damage after receiving inadequate prenatal care. The award is thought to be one of the highest civil payouts in county history, court officials said.
After hearing two weeks of testimony and deliberating for three hours, the jury determined yesterday that obstetrician Charles Gueriera negligently handles the pregnancy of Deborah Bittner, causing serious birth defects in her daughter, Emily. Emily lived for 12 years.
During the trial, Bittner's attorneys argued that Gueriera mismanaged the care of Bittner's fetus, which was considered small at 38 weeks. Instead of recognizing that the pregnancy was high risk and that the baby should be delivered, Gueriera extended the pregnancy by six weeks, causing irreparable damage to the child, Bittner's attorneys said.
"As a result this little girl was born with irreversible brain damage, massive lung damage, and spent the first 14 months of her life in intensive care at Children's Hospital in D.C.," said Chuck Zauzig, one of the Bittners' attorneys. "Basically by changing the due date, he doomed this baby."
The jury awarded Emily's estate $2.75 million in damages, plus about $3.25 million in interest, which her parents -- Deborah and Dan Bittner -- will likely receive.
Attorneys for Gueriera could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Emily's birth was made more complicated by the fact that she developed in her mother's abdomen, instead of the womb. Abdominal pregnancies are rare but can be carried to term and can produce health [sic] babies, Zauzig said.
It was not known until shortly before her birth that Emily was developing outside the womb -- a condition often hard to diagnose -- and Gueriera's attorney argued that nothing could have prevented the outcome.
"This trial sent a message out to the community," said Dov Apfel, an attorney who also represented the Bittners. "Doctors have to listen to their patients, and watch the charts and hear what Mom is telling them and intervene with high-risk pregnancy, or else you'll have a horrible outcome."
Dov Apfel is a principal in the law firm of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, P.A.
6404 Ivy Lane, Suite 400, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770. He can be reached by
phone at 301-220-2200, or by e-mail. Mr. Apfel is contacted by lawyers and
families throughout the United States to assist them with potential medical
malpractice claims involving children who have died, or who sustained
irreversible brain damage. He is the former Co-Chair of the Birth Trauma
Litigation Group of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and a member
of the Board of the Medical Negligence Section of the Maryland Trial Lawyers
This web site is not intended as legal advice on cerebral palsy, and is not a substitute for obtaining guidance from your own legal counsel about cerebral palsy litigation. It provides general educational information about the standards of care and causation issues that can arise in obstetrical malpractice and cerebral palsy litigation. Readers of the articles contained within this web site should not act upon the cerebral palsy information without first consulting with a lawyer who is experienced in evaluating and litigating cerebral palsy and obstetrical malpractice cases. Mr. Apfel is admitted to practice law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. When Mr. Apfel is asked to participate in cerebral palsy
litigation filed in other states, he will associate with, and act as co-counsel with, an attorney licensed in that state who is familiar with the local laws and procedures.