Ohio Jury Awards Family of Brain-damaged Girl $17.8 Million

The family of a Columbus, Ohio girl, now five years old, whose brain was damaged as doctors prepared her for surgery was awarded more than $17.8 million in one of Ohio’s largest medical-malpractice awards.

The settlement money is to cover future medical costs, education and pain and suffering of Alexis Hayes, who was an infant when doctors at Columbus Children’s Hospital sought to remove a benign cyst from her back on Sept. 25, 2001.

Her parents, Randy Jackson and Myrtle Hayes of Columbus, hugged each other and cried Friday as Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Guy Reece read jury verdicts finding an anesthesiologist and her company negligent. Alexis cannot speak, has cerebral palsy and will use a wheelchair for life, one of her attorneys said.

“I’m so glad it’s over,” Jackson, 47, said of the three-week trial. “I knew it was a strong case. You can’t take a healthy baby and come out with brain damage without negligence.”

The verdicts include $800,000 for each parent and $16,254,000 for Alexis. A court-appointed lawyer will act as guardian for the child and determine how her money is spent.

Lawyers for the anesthesiologist argued that Alexis must have had a heart condition that had not been detected.

However, jurors found that Dr. Sharon Benoit and her company, Children’s Anesthesia Associates Inc., were responsible for the girl’s injuries.

The girl’s blood pressure and heart rate dropped as she was being given anesthesia, medical records show. The medical team gave her stimulants and performed CPR for at least one minute.

Once she was stabilized, Benoit tried to anesthetize her again, a mistake that resulted in permanent brain damage, according to the family’s attorneys, Thomas J. O’Connell and Lawrence Abramson.

Benoit, 44, failed to let Alexis recover properly from the first attempt to administer anesthesia and didn’t respond quickly to warning signs that something was wrong, jurors found with their verdicts.

Jurors cleared a second anesthesiologist who was called in to assist, and the hospital previously reached a settlement with the family out of court.

Benoit was not in court when the verdicts were read. Her attorney, Peter VanLigten, said he will file an appeal.

In a prepared statement, Children’s Hospital said in a statement that it stands by Benoit’s record.

“With compassion for this precious child and her family, Columbus Children’s Hospital respectfully disagrees with the jury’s decision regarding the cause of this child’s tragic current medical condition,” the statement said. Dr. Benoit “provides high-quality care to the children she serves.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital said Alexis is still cared for by doctors at Children’s Hospital.

Steve Chappelear, who has studied jury verdicts for the Columbus Bar Association, said a Cuyahoga County jury awarded $30 million to a brain-damaged man and his mother in 2004. The verdict was against a doctor and the now-defunct Mount Sinai Medical Center.