The family of a woman who remains in a coma after giving birth in a Columbia hospital in 2018 has settled a lawsuit against the treating hospital and the University of South Carolina for $2.1 million, her attorneys report.
Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter of Bland Richter in Columbia report that Jodie Roberts had a high-risk pregnancy before being admitted to Prisma Hospital to give birth to her son. She thought she was going to give birth via C-section, but instead the treatment plan directed a natural birth.
Roberts was in labor for 36 hours, during which her blood pressure became “dangerously high” and she suffered from hypoxia, or shortness of breath. Roberts suffered a stroke and was rushed for an emergency C-section to deliver the baby. She went without oxygen for about 18 minutes before she was intubated.
The baby was delivered, but Roberts suffered significant injuries including severe anoxic brain impairment, Bland said. She remained at Prisma hospital for about six months before she was discharged and has remained bedridden and in a coma since. The baby was in an induced coma for about three weeks, and it is too soon to tell whether he will suffer from cognitive defects.
In the lawsuit, Roberts’ guardian and uncle, Burrell Kelly, alleged that the hospital failed to supervise the medical residents from the University of South Carolina who were primarily responsible for treating and monitoring Roberts and failed to alter the medical plan in place to deal with her elevated blood pressure. Bland said the residents at the hospital were scared to change Robert’s medical care plan and there should have been a doctor available to take charge and make that call.
“This tragedy could have been prevented,” Bland said.
Given Roberts’ pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, Prisma knew the risks the pregnancy presented to her, including the risk of a stroke, which heightened the need to monitor and manage her blood pressure, the complaint alleged.
Roberts, now 37, is in a persistent vegetative state and lives with her uncle and grandmother, who provide care for her 24 hours a day, Bland said. She requires a respiratory therapist and an occupational therapist for treatment in the hopes that she will regain some sort of movement in the future, although doctors say that her prognosis is grim.
A life care plan by Sarah Lustig of Mt. Pleasant said that because of the extensive brain injuries, the cost of future health and related costs are more than $20 million, but South Carolina law caps such damages at $1.2 million for each occurrence for charitable and non-profit hospitals. The attorneys said that one of the hardest aspects of the case was trying to get Roberts’ family to understand why the settlement was capped.
“If this was a private medical provider, then the cap would only have been $1.2 million for pain and suffering, but there would be no cap for the economic damage,” Bland said. “The tort law damages caps are completely arbitrary and there needs to be an exception for cases of catastrophic injuries where there is need for ongoing costly medical treatment.”
The attorneys for the defendants, Murrell Smith of Smith Robinson in Columbia who represented Prisma Hospital, George Beighley of Richardson Plowden in Columbia, who represented the medical residents, and Kay Crowe of Barnes Alford Stork & Johnson in Columbia, who represented the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, could not be reached for comment, but Bland said that they contended that the hospital had followed standard practices of care.
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SETTLEMENT REPORT – MEDICAL MALPRACTICE
Amount: $2.1 million
Injuries alleged: Severe anoxic brain injury resulting in a persistent vegetative state
Case name: Jodie Roberts, by and through her Legal Guardian, Burrell Kelly v. Prisma Health (formerly known as Palmetto Health Richland Memorial Hospital), Prisma Health – University of South Carolina Medical Group (formerly known as Palmetto Health – University of South Carolina Medical Group), Berry Allen Campbell, M.D., Anna Alappat, M.D., Caitlin B. Tidwell, M.D., and John and Jane Doe
Case No.: 2020-CP-4001119
Court: Richland County Circuit Court
Mediator: Karl Folkens of Florence
Date of settlement: Feb. 2
Most helpful experts: Amber Samuel, M.D. of Houston, Texas (maternal-fetal medicine) and Sarah Lustig of Mt. Pleasant (life care planning)
Attorneys for plaintiff: Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter of Bland Richter in Columbia
Attorneys for defendants: Murrell Smith of Smith Robinson in Columbia (Prisma Hospital), George Beighley of Richardson Plowden in Columbia (medical resident defendants) and Kay Crowe of Barnes Alford Stork & Johnson in Columbia (University of South Carolina School of Medicine)