New Mexico Family Awarded $73.2M In Birth Injury Lawsuit

A New Mexico state court jury has awarded $73.2 million in compensation to a mother and her child, ending a medical malpractice lawsuit in which the family accused their doctor, Jerry McLaughlin, who died in 2017 at the age of 52, of botching a high-risk childbirth, according to US News & World Report.

NM Jury Grants Huge Award In Case Of Botched Delivery

In their birth injury lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that Dr. McLaughlin and his employer, an outpatient clinic in Hobbs, New Mexico called Pecos Valley of New Mexico LLC, had been negligent in preparing for the child’s birth. Attorneys argued that the doctor and his health clinic should be held liable for injuries sustained during the birth of the young boy in 2013.

Mother Displayed Risk Factors For Large Baby

At 36 years old, and diabetic, the mother in the case, court documents report, was at high-risk of delivering an abnormally large baby. Attorneys for the family argue that McLaughlin and his clinic should have conducted a series of ultrasound examinations to gauge the baby’s size accurately.

While the mother visited the Pecos Valley clinic a total of 17 times during her pregnancy, attorneys say the clinic’s doctor, McLaughlin, only performed “several” ultrasounds, failing to conduct the battery of tests that would have identified the dangers posed to both child and mother by performing a vaginal delivery.

Doctor Miscalculated Child’s Size

Ultimately, McLaughlin mis-estimated the unborn child’s weight at 8 pounds. In reality, according to court documents, the boy was born at 11.5 pounds. Attorneys argued that a cesarean section was necessary to deliver the child, and that attempting to deliver the boy vaginally was a negligent choice.

The miscalculation, attorneys say, led to severe consequences.

Oxygen Deprivation, Brain Damage & Nerve Injuries

In all aspects, the childbirth sounds horrible and gruesome. In court documents, the mother’s attorneys say that the baby boy quickly became lodged inside the birth canal; his shoulders, the lawsuit claims, were too wide to fit through the canal. Inside the birth canal, the Santa Fe New Mexican writes, the boy “languished for 10 minutes without oxygen or the ability to breathe on his own.”

After 10 long minutes, Dr. McLaughlin finally decided to take concerted action, applying a “vacuum extraction device” to the boy’s head. Court records say that McLaughlin “forcibly yanked” the boy through the birth canal, in the process inflicting a brachial plexus injury, literally ripping a bundle of nerves that control movement and sensation in the child’s arm.

Oxygen deprivation, the lawsuit claims, led to a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury; the boy’s brain cells began to die, starved of the oxygen and nutrients they so desperately need. Today, the boy, now 5-years-old, lives with permanent brain damage, his family’s attorney says. It’s unlikely that he will ever be able to live independently. As one of the attorneys later told reporters, “he will likely reside in a group home setting.”

The nerve damage suffered due to the forceful use of a vacuum extractor has likewise led to a permanent impairment. The young boy’s right hand has been left without any function or sensation, the attorneys report. His right arm “is not much better,” they say.

Jurors Send Strong Message To Healthcare Professionals

As the verdict proves, jurors for the New Mexico state court were outraged by the facts of the case. In their decision, rendered on August 25, 2018, the jury awarded the young boy a total of $19.8 million in compensatory damages, granting an additional $13.3 million to his mother. In addition to these compensatory awards, the jury granted $40 million in punitive damages, which are intended to punish defendants for particularly egregious conduct.

“The jury was angry,” says one of the family’s attorneys. “This verdict, to me, represents the power of a jury. They will effect change by their vote here, by their award. That will get the attention of every health care provider in New Mexico and, actually, across the country.”

Lawyers believe that the $73.2 million verdict is a record for medical malpractice cases in New Mexico. “This verdict,” says Anne Sperling, a conservator who will help the family invest their money, “is absolutely going to get him to the place where he can survive his life without any worries.”

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