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Couple awarded $14.5M in lawsuit

Ohio parents say Clearfield Hospital, doctor were negligent during son’s birth

An Ohio couple whose child was born at Clearfield Hospital in 2012 has been awarded $14.5 million by a civil court jury in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

The verdict, believed to be the largest ever returned in the Johnstown federal court, found that a Clearfield physician, Dr. Thomas A. Carnevale, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, and the hospital were negligent in caring for the mother, Nicole Welker, during the birth of her son, Juistinian, on July 19, 2012.

The lawsuit brought by Welker and her partner, Justin Brinkley, contended that the doctor ordered the use of the drug Pitocin to augment Welker’s labor as she struggled to give birth.

According to the case presented by the lead attorney for the parents, Dominic Guerrini of Philadelphia, the drug caused contractions that limited the supply of oxygen to the child during birth, and the baby was born suffering  from “cerebral palsy and catastrophic disabilities.”

The lawsuit contended there were signs that the baby was in distress because Welker’s labor was being monitored, but no action was taken to alleviate the problem, Guerrini said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

In answers to the lawsuit, both the hospital and the doctor said the care Welker received did not violate medical standards.

The lawsuit was filed in 2014 and went to a two-week trial in January.

The verdict was returned  Friday evening in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson.

As part of its verdict, the jury was asked to determine the percentage of responsibility each party had for the harm suffered by the child.

The jury assigned 60 percent of the responsibility to the doctor and 40 percent to the hospital.

According to the verdict, a million dollars will go for any wages the child might have received during his lifetime while $2 million was awarded as compensation for other damages such as pain, suffering and loss of the child’s ability to enjoy life.

The rest of the award was for medical expenses the boy will need during his lifetime.

The jury was asked to assign an annual amount to the cost of medical care for the child from this year through 2063.

Guerrini argued that the medical costs in such a case will be extraordinary, and he emphasized that the cost of medical care will increase each year.

The jury began its yearly medical award at $131,000, but by 2063 estimated that cost will top half a million dollars.

Normally, medical malpractice cases are tried in the state court and in the county in which they allegedly occurred.

Welker and her partner were able to file the lawsuit in the federal court because they listed their address as Wellsville, Ohio, meaning the parties are from separate states.

The attorneys for the doctor indicated through a secretary they would have no comment on the case.

The Mirror was unable to reach the doctor or the Hollidaysburg attorney for Clearfield Hospital.

The spokesman for Clearfield Hospital, Dave Trudell, said he would have no comment, but he said the large award facing the hospital will be paid through the 50-bed institution’s insurance carriers. He said the award will have no “direct impact” on the hospital’s operation.

The lawsuit related that Welker had an estimated due date for her first child of July 14, 2012.

Welker received her prenatal care at the Adagio Health System in Erie but relocated to Clearfield on July 10, 2012.

The child was born at 6 pounds, 14 ounces.

Within hours of his birth, he was taken to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital.

Guerrini said the child has trouble putting on weight but cognitively is doing well, which, he said, is a good sign.

The two-week trial was stressful, he said, because, for the child, “the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

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