Iowa has agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a lawsuit that claimed negligence by University of Iowa hospital employees during a birth that caused a baby to have brain injuries that left him severely retarded, newly released records show.
The settlement, among the largest involving malpractice at the state-owned hospital in recent years, ends a lawsuit filed by Jonathon and Martha Fountain of Iowa City and their son, a 5-year-old who suffers from cerebral palsy and other serious health conditions. The State Appeal Board, which approved the settlement earlier this month, released the 12-page agreement in response to a request from The Associated Press.
The family’s lawyer, Martin Diaz, said the case was part of a cutting-edge area of medical malpractice involving the use of Pitocin, a synthetic hormone given to a large percentage of women giving birth that is meant to speed up the labor process.
Diaz said the problem in a growing number of cases is that the medication causes excessive contractions in some women that actually prolong delivery and can cause a lack of blood flow to the baby’s brain. He said hospitals vary in their approaches to how Pitocin is used and monitored.
“He is, unfortunately, the poster child for that here in Iowa,” Diaz said, referring to the child.
Lawyers representing the university denied claims of negligence related to the use of Pitocin and said the child’s brain injuries were likely caused by other factors, not complications during birth. They argued that the theory that excessive contractions can cause brain injuries to babies “is not supported by scientific evidence.”
Martha Fountain, then 20, was full-term when she went to UIHC to give birth in 2007 after a routine pregnancy. Her lawsuit alleged that UIHC staff gave her Pitocin before determining whether her contractions were too frequent and strong. UIHC employees continued to give her Pitocin despite later recordings that showed excessive contractions and “significant trauma” to the baby’s head, which was having difficulty descending into the birth canal, the lawsuit said. After a 28-hour labor, the baby was delivered through a C-section.
A judge and the appeal board, which handles legal claims against state government, each signed off on the settlement earlier this week. Half of the money will come from the state’s general fund while the other half will come from a University of Iowa physicians group.
Hospital spokesman Tom Moore declined to comment.
The deal avoided a trial that had been scheduled for April, where Diaz planned to argue that it would cost $6.3 million or more to care for the child over his lifetime. Court records show he planned to ask for additional damages for the family’s pain and suffering. The family’s medical coverage has been picked up by government and private programs, records show.
Under the agreement, the state will pay nearly $2 million upfront. The additional $1.75 million will be invested, and then paid in monthly installments to support the child over the next 55 years. The monthly payments start next year at $1,250 and gradually rise, ending at $2,803 per month from 2037 to 2067.
Diaz will receive $900,000 in legal fees that will be spread out over 10 years, starting in 2016. He’ll receive annual payments of $125,000 for three years, and $75,000 per year for the next seven. The deal also waived a $37,000 outstanding bill the Fountains had pending for care at UIHC, which denied all liability.
Diaz said the settlement will help Martha and Jonathon Fountain, a mechanic, care for their son. Diaz said he was proud they decided to pursue the lawsuit, and he hopes it leads to policy changes to protect others.
“They really took a long time before they decided they wanted to do something about what happened. They debated whether it was God’s plan,” Diaz said. “It was important for them to do it and it’s a relief for them to get it over …They came out to do what was best for their son and now they are in a position where they can provide for him.”