Parents awarded $74 million in malpractice lawsuit against doctor

Andrew and Jennifer Blunt sued the local doctor who delivered their daughter after the baby developed cerebral palsy

nwilson@thetribunenews.comApril 20, 2012 

A jury awarded a San Luis Obispo couple more than $74 million against a doctor Friday on behalf of their baby daughter — finding that the physician was negligent in the delivery of the baby girl who developed cerebral palsy.

After two days of deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men found that Dr. Kurt Haupt was responsible for a botched delivery on April 19, 2009, at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center.

Andrew and Jennifer Blunt sued Haupt on behalf of their daughter, Sofia Blunt. Several jurors hugged the family, who watched over the 3-year-old girl in a stroller with a harness, after the verdict.

The jury said the case hit them hard emotionally and that the evidence pointed them to their decision of awarding $74,225,000.

The jury awarded damages that mostly cover medical costs that the family will incur during the course of Sofia’s lifetime.

Judge Charles S. Crandall has the authority and discretion to reduce the damages, a ruling that is likely in this case, according to lawyers involved.

“Damage to this little girl happened, and the evidence showed us that, more likely than not, the doctor was negligent,” said Melody Eltrich, the jury foreperson. “Nobody wants to make someone pay for no reason. This was a life-changing event.”

The standard of probable wrongdoing used in civil court is less demanding than the standard that must be met to convict a defendant in criminal court: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Blunts’ attorney, Nicholas Rowley, who specializes in medical malpractice cases, presented evidence during the trial that the baby’s heart rate was fluctuating wildly and the doctor didn’t hasten the birth or conduct a proper examination of cord blood.

Defense attorney Peter Bertling argued that a blockage of mucus in the baby’s airway, not the heart rate, caused the loss of oxygen to Sofia Blunt’s brain that led her to develop cerebral palsy.

The Blunts, along with the lawyers on both sides of the case, greeted many of the jurors outside the courtroom.

Many hugged the couple, whom their lawyer called “the victims of medical malpractice.”

“I’m glad it’s over,” Andrew Blunt said. “I’m glad we got answers. Nobody was telling us anything when we first started this process. If we didn’t do this, we never would have had justice.”

Andrew Blunt said that part of the reason he brought the lawsuit is that he wanted his daughter to be taken care of medically, even if his wife and he aren’t around one day to do it.

Juror Daniel Harris said that the case, to him, was about an American family overcoming an injustice to “come out on top.”

“The doctor was complacent,” Harris said. “He did his best, but he had too much too handle, I guess.”

Bertling defended his client, saying that Haupt has practiced medicine successfully for more than 34 years and said he plans to appeal.

Bertling said he wanted the background of an expert witness called by the plaintiff to be admitted as evidence, because it would have called the expert’s credibility into question. But Crandall ruled against him.

Sierra Vista, previously named a party in the case, settled 2½ weeks into trial for an undisclosed sum.

Rowley said he plans to file a lawsuit against Tenet Healthcare Corp., Sierra Vista’s parent company, on behalf of the Blunts because of decisions he said the corporation made as part of the case.

Rowley handed a letter to jurors saying that Bertling’s insurance company will be “responsible for 100 percent of the jury verdict.”

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