On February 4, 2014, a Georgia judge determined that the plaintiffs’ medical malpractice verdict in the amount of $3 million for a baby’s permanent and severe brain damage suffered as a result of alleged medical malpractice shortly after his birth will be increased to almost $4.5 million under Georgia’s Unliquidated Damages Interest Act and Georgia’s offer of settlement statute.
The Underlying Facts
A few days after the plaintiffs’ twins (one boy and one girl) were born in July 2008, the baby boy was noticed to be lethargic and not eating. The parents brought their newborn to a local emergency room from which the baby was transported by helicopter to a children’s hospital in Atlanta. In Atlanta, the baby was diagnosed after medical testing with maple syrup urine disease, an inherited metabolic disorder in which the body cannot break down certain parts of proteins and the urine can smell like maple syrup; if not timely treated, the disease results in severe, permanent brain damage, which the baby boy suffered.
The parents filed their Georgia medical malpractice case in 2010, naming as defendants certain physicians and other health care providers involved with their son’s care. Some of the health care providers settled the medical negligence claims against them in 2012, leaving a neonatologist and his employer as the remaining medical malpractice defendants.
On July 5, 2012, the plaintiffs delivered an offer of judgment in the amount of $2 million to the remaining defendants to settle the claims against them, which was rejected. On May 31, 2013, three days before the medical malpractice trial, the parents dismissed their individual claims against the defendants, resulting in their injured son as the sole remaining medical malpractice plaintiff.
The two-week jury trial resulted in a verdict in favor of the child in the amount of $7.5 million, which was reduced to $3 million because the jury found that the two remaining defendants were 40% liable for the baby’s injuries (the jury determined that two of the settling physicians who were originally named as defendants were 60% liable).
The plaintiffs filed two motions shortly after the jury’s verdict: one requesting that interest be added to the verdict from the date of their offer of settlement in 2012, pursuant to Georgia’s Unliquidated Damages Interest Act (that statute allows interest to be added to the jury’s verdict if the offer of settlement is rejected and the verdict is in the same amount as the offer of settlement or greater) and the second motion sought to add the plaintiffs’ 40% contingency attorney fee plus expenses to the amount of the verdict pursuant to Georgia’s offer of settlement statute (that statute provides that the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and expenses may be added to the jury’s verdict if the verdict is greater than 25% of a rejected offer of settlement).
The medical malpractice defendants responded to the two motions by arguing that the parents’ decision to be dismissed, individually, from the case three days before the trial was a substantial change that altered the case against them and therefore they should not be subject to either requested increase in the amount of the jury’s verdict.
The judge granted both of the plaintiffs’ post-trial motions, increasing the $3 million verdict by adding $107,534 in pre-judgment interest, $1,243,013 in attorney’s fees, and $128,497 in expenses, finding that the jury’s verdict was not improperly influenced by sympathy for the child that would not have existed had his parents remained as plaintiffs and that the jury would not have been improperly prejudiced against the child had his parents remained as plaintiffs in the case at the time of the trial.
The medical malpractice defendants’ post-trial motions are still pending.
Source Moraitakis v. Sysyn, No. 12 VS 195119.
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