A jury found a hospital liable in an 11-month-old boy’s beating death and ordered hospital officials to pay $400,000 in damages to the boy’s relatives.
Six jurors deliberated more than eight hours before returning their verdict in the lawsuit filed in April 2006 by the child’s father against Methodist Hospital and doctors Gary Thompson and Michael Turner.
The Marion County, Ind. jury found Clarian Health, which operates Methodist, was liable, but that Turner and Thompson were not, in the boy’s death.
Riley Leon Chilton’s lawsuit claimed that Methodist Hospital and the physicians failed to properly identify and report suspected child abuse when Chilton’s son, Chance Chilton, was treated at the hospital in August 1998 for a skull fracture.
It claims those alleged failures resulted in Chance being returned to his mother and her live-in boyfriend after he was released from the hospital.
Less than a month later, Chance was fatally beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, John Beauchamp, who pleaded guilty to battery in 2003.
Beauchamp, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison with eight years suspended, was released from prison in 2005 based on credit for time served and good behavior in prison.
Jurors heard four days of testimony that ranged from the pain of losing a child to standards for medical care in the lawsuit filed by Riley Leon Chilton, who died in October.
Mike Woody, attorney for the Chilton estate, said the vulnerable child depended on the doctors and hospital personnel to protect him.
“They treated Chance, but they did not protect him,” Woody told the jury, contending that it was clear Chance’s skull fracture was the result of abuse.
In instructions to the jury, Marion Circuit Judge Theodore Sosin instructed the panel to consider two issues: whether the health care providers failed to meet reasonable medical standards for care and, if so, whether those failures contributed to Chance’s death.
Attorney Kelly Pitcher, who represented Methodist, said the doctors and hospital staff considered the possibility of abuse but ruled it out because Chance’s injuries were consistent with the story that he had fallen from a crib and struck his head on a wooden box.
“Judgment has to be made on the information that was available at the time,” she said.
Pitcher said there was no evidence that Riley Leon Chilton made any attempt to report his concerns that Chance had been abused and that he was culpable for not stepping in to protect his son.
Representing Thompson, Chance’s family physician, Beth Knotts, told the jury a medical review board had cleared both doctors of wrongdoing.
“You cannot use hindsight,” she said. “You have to look at this story without knowing how it ended.”
Dave Jensen, who represented Turner, a neurosurgeon who cared for Chance at Methodist, said physicians have to use their judgment, training and skill in determining the cause of an injury.
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