Health & Medicine

Amador jury awards $8.4 million to boy paralyzed after Sutter and its doctors did not report abuse

At hearings unfolding this week and next week at the California Labor Commissioner's Office, Sutter Health employees testified that they were not able to take meal breaks or rest breaks because of chronic understaffing in their departments at Sutter’s Capitol Pavilion Surgical Center in midtown Sacramento.
At hearings unfolding this week and next week at the California Labor Commissioner's Office, Sutter Health employees testified that they were not able to take meal breaks or rest breaks because of chronic understaffing in their departments at Sutter’s Capitol Pavilion Surgical Center in midtown Sacramento. Sacramento Bee file

An Amador County jury awarded a 6-year-old boy an $8.4 million verdict against Sutter Sacramento Sierra Region, its physician group and four members of his biological family after determining that his medical team failed to report evidence of child abuse, leading to injuries that paralyzed him.

Amador Superior Court Judge James D. Garbolino must review the jury verdict and determine the exact amount of damages, said the boy’s attorney, Christopher Keane of San Francisco, and that decision is likely to face an appeal by one or more parties in the case. The reason, Keane said, is that a 1975 California law places a cap on what health care defendants can be required to pay to compensate plaintiffs for pain, suffering, physical impairment and other non-economic damages.

Of the $8.4 million verdict, $3.9 million is meant to compensate Cree Miller, the child in this case, for injuries he suffered after Jan. 28, 2011. Jurors said in the verdict announced Wednesday that the medical providers were responsible for paying half this sum, but if the judge applies the malpractice cap, they would have to pay no more than $250,000.

Keane said that he would appeal such a decision, arguing that his client’s injuries arose out of failure to comply with the mandatory reporting law, not as a provision of medical care. If the judge enforces the jury verdict, however, Keane said the defendants could appeal.

“That will ultimately be decided by a higher court than where we are now,” Keane said, “and that will have a big impact not only for this particular boy’s outcome…but also for other children throughout the state who are subject to similar sort of thing.”

Sutter would not comment on questions about an appeal. Concord-based VEP Healthcare, the medical group that manages emergency physicians at Sutter Amador, said it does not comment on ongoing legal matters.

Sutter spokesperson Nancy Turner said, “We are very sorry for what Cree and the Miller family has experienced. This case offers us the opportunity for analysis and to learn as much as we can about how to improve. Our goal is to deliver the highest quality care and to treat all our patients with compassion and dignity.”

In the complaint, Keane alleged that emergency staff at Jackson’s Sutter Amador Hospital initially treated Miller when he was 7 weeks old. Miller, the suit states, arrived with his teenage parents, Andrea Soldano and Anthony Santana, and his maternal grandmother, Elysee Palmer, who reported blood in the infant’s mouth, damage to his eye and facial bruises.

The jury said that the physician, a nurse and two nurse practitioners who saw Cree were negligent for not reporting suspected abuse, though they were obligated under California’s Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act to file a report with Child Protective Services.

Three weeks later, Miller’s biological family brought him back to the emergency room at Sutter Amador Hospital with a spinal cord injury, a broken clavicle, two broken ribs and extensive bruising over much of his body. A former Child Protective Services worker testified at trial that, if a report had been made to CPS when the infant was first seen at 7 weeks, he would have been taken into protective custody.

Miller was adopted by his foster mother, Dawn Miller of Calaveras County, after having been removed from the care of his biological parents following the injuries that paralyzed him.

The lawsuit names Dr. Shawn Brady, nurse practitioner Trina Haymond, Sutter Sacramento Emergency Region, Valley Emergency Physicians Medical Group and four members of Miller’s biological family: Andrea Soldano, Anthony Santana, Greg Palmer and Elysee Palmer.

In addition to the $3.9 million in compensatory damages, the jurors’ verdict awarded Miller $4.1 million in future monetary damages. Keane, who worked on the case with attorneys Edward Stark of Los Angeles and Jennifer Lothert of Sonora, said that the law allows their client to seek this entire amount from any one of the defendants, regardless of their percentage of responsibility in causing damages.

Court records show how jurors assigned fault in this case: Brady, 10.5 percent; Haymond, 10.5 percent; Sutter, 20 percent; VEP, 9 percent; and 12.5 percent to each of Miller’s four biological relatives named in the suit. Jurors also awarded Cree Miller a $400,000 verdict against his biological parents and maternal biological grandparents as compensation for injuries sustained before Jan. 28, 2011.

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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