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Pinellas jury awards boy millions in malpractice case against All Children's Hospital

ST. PETERSBURG — Sabrina Smith is the mother of a 9-year-old boy, but he's not like other kids his age.

He needs help getting dressed in the morning. He's two grades behind in school and still learning ABCs. He will probably never graduate from high school or support himself with a job.

The reason, Smith and her attorneys say, is brain damage that her son suffered after receiving improper care at All Children's Hospital one night in August 2000.

This week a jury agreed by delivering an $11.1 million verdict in a medical malpractice case that could cost the hospital up to $8.7 million.

"I was very thankful," said Smith, 26, who now lives in Hollywood. "Because now my son, Daniel … (can) get the help that he needs."

But only if the verdict survives. All Children's says it did care for Daniel properly and plans to appeal.

"Though his current condition is unfortunate, we maintain that the care he was given in our Emergency Center in August 2000 was appropriate," the hospital said Friday in a prepared statement, which also expressed concern for the boy and his family.

"We believe that fundamental errors were made which influenced this verdict — errors that can be only corrected by an appellate court," the hospital said in the statement.

All Children's also pointed out that the hospital "was found only partially responsible."

The verdict came after the jury deliberated three full days, an unusually long time. Smith's attorney, Alan Goldfarb, said that in 37 years of practicing law, the longest deliberations he had seen previously were six hours.

At the time of the 2000 incident, Smith said, she was a young mother living in a St. Petersburg home called Alpha House. Daniel, then 3 months old, had been sick for days with vomiting and diarrhea, so she took him to the hospital.

She says they stayed there for about 4 1/2 hours, when she then was told he was fine to bring home.

"I went home happy and content that my son was going to be all right," said Smith.

But the next morning he could barely breathe, and had to be rushed back to All Children's. By that time, "he suffered from irreversible brain injury," said another of her attorneys, Justin C. Leto of Miami.

During the first hospital visit, the medical staff did not properly check to see if Daniel was dehydrated and did not follow proper procedures to treat him for dehydration, Leto said.

After three weeks of trial, the jury found the hospital to be 60 percent at fault for the boy's condition. A doctor, Diane Bourlier, was considered 40 percent responsible. She settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, Leto said. She could not be reached late Friday.

Attorneys said All Children's could be responsible for $6.7 million to $8.7 million of the verdict, and most of the money is to be used for the boy's future care. A formal amount will be entered later.

Smith said she knows the hospital plans to appeal, but she is optimistic that she will prevail again. However, she said she has not been able to explain any of this to her son.

"He doesn't understand," she said. "He does not understand at all."

Pinellas jury awards boy millions in malpractice case against All Children's Hospital 10/23/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 24, 2009 12:05am]

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