The birth of a child is something many soon-to-be parents look forward to with both excitement and nervousness. Concern for the health and safety of both mother and child are common, and often, unnecessary. Sadly, this is not always true. In the case of one Terrebonne Parish family, the arrival of a baby girl was accompanied by an unfortunate medical mistake. The family’s medical malpractice claim raised important distinctions in assessing and apportioning damages as it moved into the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal.
Following a high-risk pregnancy, Kimberly Thibodeaux gave birth to her daughter, Gabrielle, on November 20th, 2003. Dr. James Donnell performed the cesarean section that delivered Mrs. Thibodeaux’s fourth child. Complications arose from the c-section, including a severe laceration to Mrs. Thibodeaux’s bladder. Ultimately, Dr. Donnell performed an emergency hysterectomy and placed sutures into Mrs. Thibodeaux’s bladder without consulting a urologist before attempting to repair Mrs. Thibodeaux’s bladder himself. Mrs. Thibodeaux experienced extreme abdominal pain and discomfort following the delivery, eventually necessitating further treatment under the care of urologist Dr. Robert Alexander. Mrs. Thibodeaux’s abdomen was reopened, the sutures removed, stents and a catheter were placed into her bladder in an attempt to regain any functional use. Mrs. Thibodeaux continued her treatment with Dr. Alexander, who determined the damage to Mrs. Thibodeaux’s bladder was permanent in April 2007. Mrs. Thibodeaux continued to suffer from a range of painful symptoms, including frequent urination, leakage, pain during sex and urination, and abdominal spasms.
Mrs. Thibodeaux, along with her husband Todd and on behalf of their daughter, filed a medical malpractice suit against Dr. Donnell. In May 2014, the jury trial returned a verdict in the Thibodeauxs’ favor, finding that Dr. Donnell had breached the applicable standard of care in treating Mrs. Thibodeaux, and that his breach caused her injuries. The jury awarded $60,000 for Mrs. Thibodeaux’s medical expenses but did not award any general damages. Both the Thibodeauxs and Dr. Donnell filed motions challenging the damages award. The trial court denied both motions, and the Thibodeauxs filed an appeal in the First Circuit. After determining both motions were filed in an appropriate manner within the stated deadline, the court concluded the Thibodeauxs had cleared a path for their appeal concerning damages. See La. R.S. 13.850(A).
In its decision, the Court of Appeal looked to resolve two main issues. First, whether the award of special damages for Mrs. Thibodeaux’s medical expenses without any accompanying general damages was incorrect, and secondly, if the trial court did make a mistake in failing to award general damages, how should they be calculated?
Courts are generally given wide discretion in assessing and awarding damages. See La. C.C. art. 2324.1. The Court of Appeal described general damages as being more intangible; they cannot be objectively measured in a way medical expenses allow. Their purpose is an attempt to restore a person to the state he or she was in before the injury took place.
The question of awarding special or general damages also turns on a jury’s findings regarding the source of the injury that required further treatment. A court’s failure to award damages appropriately, in a way that is considered too “inconsistent” with a jury’s conclusions, is considered an abuse of discretion. See Green v. K-Mart Corp., 874 So.2d 838 (La. 2004).
In this case, the Court of Appeal noted there was a “reasonable factual basis” to support the Thibodeauxs’ claims that Dr. Donnell’s failed attempt to repair her bladder caused her on-going injuries. Evidence from the record included Dr. Alexander’s extensive follow-up treatment with Mrs. Thibodeaux, and his own admission that her symptoms do not typically occur without some major trauma to the bladder. The jury’s verdict form was also referenced, stating Dr. Donnell did breach the applicable standard of care owed to Mrs. Thibodeaux, and that this breach caused injury. The Court of Appeal concluded Dr. Donnell’s actions contributed to Mrs. Thibodeaux’s bladder damage. This finding was inconsistent with the jury’s decision to forego awarding any general damages.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment regarding general damages. Kimberly Thibodeaux was awarded $50,000 in general damages. Her husband, Todd Thibodeaux, was awarded $15,000 for loss of consortium, service, and society damages. Their child, Gabrielle Thibodeaux, was awarded $5,000 for loss of consortium, service, and society damages as well.
In bringing a medical malpractice claim, it is important to know the different type of damages and required evidence in order to ensure you receive everything that is owed you.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Lindsey White
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