Jury sides with doctor over infant’s brain damage

By May 4, 2015 cases

Special to Missouri Lawyers Media A St. Louis County jury sided with a pediatrician sued by the family of a now 8-year-old who suffered severe brain damage from going into cardiac arrest eight days after he was born. Dominic Ernst’s parents sued Dr. Mona Yassin, the Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Washington University in March 2010, alleging that the defendants failed to properly detect what was later diagnosed as a congenital heart defect that caused narrowing of the newborn’s aorta after he returned to the hospital as a jaundiced one-week-old who wasn’t feeding adequately. He was discharged from the medical center’s emergency room four hours after his arrival in consultation with Yassin, a solo practitioner.

The complaint alleged that when the child’s mother “refused to accept a diagnosis of ‘feeding issues’ as the explanation for her son’s failure to thrive, she was threatened with being reported to the [Missouri] Division of Family Services and having her child removed from her custody if she wouldn’t acknowledge the diagnosis.” “We were somewhat stunned that the jury ruled against us in the case,” said plaintiff’s attorney Mark T. McCloskey, citing the March 3 verdict that has since been appealed.

Dominic Ernst’s parents reached a confidential settlement with Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Washington University, the emergency room physician’s employer, about one month prior to trial, according to both McCloskey and defense attorney Ryan Gavin, who represented Yassin. Gavin suggested that the jury’s verdict came down to conflicting expert witness testimony about the pediatrician’s culpability in not initially diagnosing a coarctation of the aorta, which he called “a very insidious condition that was hard to detect.”

“It potentially looks like a lot of other problems,” he said. “It doesn’t manifest as a heart condition until it’s too late.” He added that the plaintiff’s nine experts were “somewhat inconsistent with what they thought the signs and symptoms were.” “To believe one, you had to disbelieve the other,” Gavin said.

Dominic spent one month at Cardinal Glennon’s Children’s Hospital after he was stricken, continues to suffer seizures and will need lifetime medical care, according to his lawyers, who sought more than $25 million at trial. That demand included $15.2 million in past and future noneconomic damages, $12 million in future life care and medical needs and $3.3 million in lost earning capacity. mo

-By Alan Scher Zagier

View Article PDF

  • Venue: St. Louis County Circuit Court
  • Case number/date: 10SL-CC00790/March 3, 2015
  • Plaintiff’s experts: Dr. Eugene Saltzberg, Chicago (emergency medicine, pediatrics); Dr. James Scibilia, Beaver, Pennsylvania (pediatrics); Dr. Kenneth Goertz, Kansas City, Kansas (pediatric cardiology); Dr. William Singer, Boston (pediatric neurology); Dr. Thomas Polisoto, Buffalo, New York (pediatric physical medicine and rehabilitation); Dr. Bradford Ross, Mountainside, N.J. (neuropsychology); Ronald Savage, Haddonfield, New Jersey (special education, brain injury rehabilitation); Susan Riddick-Grisham, Richmond, Virginia (life care planning); David Gibson, Chicago (vocational economics)
  • Defendant’s experts: Dr. Bruce Lockman, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania (pediatrics); Dr. Melvin Almodovar, Boston (pediatric cardiology)
  • Insurer: MPM-PPIA (for Yassin)
  • First pretrial demand: $21 million (from all defendants)
  • First pretrial offer: $500,000 (by Yassin)
  • Last pretrial demand: $1 million (policy limits) from Yassin
  • Last pretrial offer: $750,000
  • Caption: Bevis Schock, trustee of the Dominic Stephen Ernst Special Needs Trust and next friend to Dominic Ernst, a minor v. Mona Yassin, MD
  • Judge: Richard C. Bresnahan
  • Plaintiffs’ attorneys: Mark T. McCloskey and Patricia N. McCloskey, McCloskey PC, St. Louis
  • Defendant’s attorneys: Ryan Gavin and Mandy Kamykowski, Kamykowski, Gavin & Smith, St. Louis