Baltimore jury's record $229 million malpractice verdict may change a life — but likely not the system

Baltimore Sun
Thursday, July 4, 2019

Zubida Byrom likes to watch cartoons on her iPad and frequently smiles and says “hi.”

The Prince George’s girl, now 4-and-a-half years old, likely won’t say much more, according to the family’s attorney. She likely won’t ever walk. She relies on a feeding tube.

Her family hopes the round-the-clock care by a nursing staff will be paid for with the $229.6 million a jury awarded her Monday after finding Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center liable for brain damage she suffered during birth. Her lawyers believe it’s the largest medical malpractice verdict in the United States.

Such an award from a jury is rare and is certain to be reduced, perhaps substantially, according to legal experts. And as enormous as the outcome may be for the family, the ultimate award likely won’t improve the next family’s prospects in the legal system — and it likely won’t change the way care is delivered.

“It feels shocking because the jury just ruled,” said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School. “In followup, people always find that such a verdict is almost never paid out by the hospital. ….And you don’t stop injuries and death with lawsuits.”

Medical errors are the nation’s third-largest cause of death, and many more people are seriously harmed, according to research done at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Doroshow says better and safer methods of providing care have been developed, for doctors and hospitals who choose to follow them.…

A state cap will reduce the award to about $200 million, and the appeal could eliminate the award or result in a verdict for a lesser amount. The amount the family receives would also be reduced by lawyers’ fees.

Maryland and about 20 other states have a cap of some kind on awards, though Doroshow said many awards end up limited by what is available from insurance or what is later negotiated privately by doctors or hospitals.

Providers have sought caps, in some cases convincing their state legislatures that large awards increased insurance costs that were passed on to patients, though studies show that insurance is more affected by economic cycles and not the occasional large jury verdict, Doroshow said.

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