Jury Sends Message to Healthcare Industry with $16 Million Award

After a two-week trial, held before Jefferson County Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker, and ten hours of deliberation, a Jefferson County jury awarded the Malatesta family $16 million in a medical negligence and reckless fraud lawsuit against Brookwood Women’s Medical Center and its parent company, Tenet Healthcare Corporation.

The jury awarded Caroline Malatesta $10 million in compensatory damages for the pudendal neuralgia nerve injury she suffered during childbirth. Her husband was awarded $1 million for loss of consortium.  The award included $5 million in punitive damages for medical negligence and reckless fraud linked to the hospital’s 2012 natural birth advertising campaign.

In 2011, Caroline Malatesta, pregnant with her fourth child, became interested in natural childbirth after seeing a television ad.  According to the lawsuit, the marketing campaign, including the ad in question, was not reviewed by medical staff and did not undergo an internal fraud review process before being aired.

Caroline and J.T. Malatesta were represented by Birmingham attorneys David Marsh and Rip Andrews.  In response to the verdict, Marsh said that “While the verdict is large, it is consistent with the costs and future costs for Mrs. Malatesta’s care and treatment for chronic debilitating pelvic pain caused by the birthing procedure.”

According to a blog post on the law firm’s website, “The Brookwood ads emphasized a mother’s choice, individual birthing plans, freedom of movement and even mentioned water births. Caroline met with her newly chosen doctor at Brookwood and asked lots of questions before finally committing to a delivery at Brookwood…Caroline had no freedom of movement; instead, she was restrained, sometimes forcibly”.

While the baby was not injured during the delivery, according to attorney Rip Andrews, the jury concluded that her permanent nerve injury was a direct result of the actions of medical staff to delay delivery for 6 minutes until her doctor arrived.  In response to the verdict, he said “I’ve never seen a jury more committed to doing the right thing.”

If the verdict stands after post-trial review by the judge, the hospital could file an appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court. The lawsuit, filed in 2014, was one of several filed in recent years against Tenet, which has also been under federal investigation for charges of healthcare fraud.