A Summit County jury awarded an $11.35 million verdict this week in a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a Massillon boy with a brain injury.
The jury returned the verdict Thursday evening after a two-week trial and a day of deliberations in Summit County Judge Joy Oldfield’s courtroom.
Matthew and Lisa Ellis of Massillon filed the lawsuit against Dr. Laura Fortner and Atrium OB/GYN Inc. in Canton, her practice at the time, claiming that Fortner was negligent in delivering the Ellises’ son, resulting in his brain injury.
Their son, now 16, has intellectual and social disabilities. Fortner and Atrium, however, argued the doctor followed accepted practices and didn’t cause the brain injury.
The Ellises were pleased with the jury’s verdict because they say it will enable their son to receive the specialized care he is expected to need for the rest of this life.
“This is a wonderful family and a very deserving child for this award by the jury,” said Michael Becker, the Elyria attorney who represented the family. “It will hopefully provide funds to take care of him in the future, such as a specialized group home.”
Fortner delivered the Ellises’ son on April 26, 2001, at Aultman Hospital. It was a vaginal delivery with the use of a vacuum and forceps, according to court documents.
Becker said several signs pointed to the need for the baby to be delivered by Caesarian section, including Ellis being a first-time mother, the baby being large and the head being in the wrong direction. He said the baby was “traumatized” by the delivery, with evidence of bruising and contusions.
The baby was hospitalized in the neonatal intensive care unit and the Ellises were told he could suffer lasting injuries, Becker said.
The boy initially appeared to be normal functioning, but his parents began to notice social and developmental delays as he got older.
“They were hopeful he would grow out of the problems, but reality set in by the time he was 9 or 10,” Becker said. “That’s when we started the investigation.”
An early diagnosis pointed to the boy being on the autism spectrum, but an MRI showed he had brain damage. The conclusion was that this was the result of injuries he suffered during his birth, Becker said.
The area where the boy’s brain was most damaged was where he had the biggest contusion in his newborn photo. Becker thinks this was a convincing piece of evidence for the jurors.
The Ellises claimed in the lawsuit that they had incurred and would continue to incur medical and other expenses for the care of their son, and that he would suffer a loss of income as the result of his brain injury.
Fortner, however, argued that her actions were “within the standard of care” and that she wasn’t to blame for the brain injury, according to court documents.
The jurors, however, found that Fortner was negligent because a lack of diligence in medical charting, poor communication with Lisa Ellis “resulting in prolonged, protracted labor,” a missed opportunity for a C-section, and lack of care to Lisa and her son while they were in distress, according to court documents.
The jurors didn’t find that the Ellises had suffered a loss of consortium or companionship with their son.
The jurors awarded the Ellises damages of $9.5 million for future economic loss and $1.85 million for future noneconomic loss, according to court documents.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 in Stark County Common Pleas Court, but was withdrawn and refiled in Summit County Common Pleas Court in 2016. A doctor who was also named, but later dropped, from the lawsuit is from Summit County. Aultman Hospital also was originally sued, but later removed from the suit.