Howard University Hospital and three doctors agreed yesterday to pay $1.75 million to the family of a child born with brain damage in a hallway of the hospital in 1976.
The settlement was reached Monday during jury selection in a suit brought by the family and the child in D.C. Superior Court. The suit charged that the doctors had been negligent when they failed to treat the mother, who was allegedly suffering from a sickle cell crisis when she entered the hospital during labor. As a result the child was deprived of oxygen during birth, the suit said. The mother died five days later.
During a sickle cell crisis, the flow of blood slows, diminishing delivery of oxygen to surrounding tissue. If untreated during a pregnancy, the child's lawyers had planned to argue, little oxygen can permeate the placenta and reach the fetus.
The child, born in the hallway on the way to the delivery room, was believed to be dead by the first-year resident who assisted in the birth, according to papers filed by the child's lawyer. The resident then tried to resuscitate the baby but no oxygen was administered until six minutes later in the nursery, according to court papers.
Francis Smith, acting general counsel for Howard University, said yesterday that the hospital had not admitted any liability in the case nor was it involved in reaching the settlement agreement. Smith said the university's contract with a private insurance company at the time the suit was filed allowed the insurer to maintain control over all university litigation regardless of the university's wishes.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert A. Shuker signed the settlement yesterday. The girl, 9-year-old Darlene Jones, who lives in Northeast, suffers from cerebral palsy, is unable to walk without help, still wears diapers and experiences frequent seizures.
In court papers, Jack Olender, the lawyer for the the family, alleged that hospital records showed that when Irma Denice Jones was admitted to the hospital's maternity ward, seven months pregnant, she exhibited signs of sickle cell crisis -- bleeding in her mouth, bloody urine, lethargy and pains in the joints -- that were recognized by the hospital's family practice resident. Despite the symptoms, Olender charged that Jones was left unattended for the eight hours preceding her child's birth.