A Clayton County jury awarded more than $30 million in a medical malpractice case involving an 18-day-old infant who lost the tip of his penis during a botched circumcision in 2013.
But the verdict sparked another wrangle because it cleared one of the defendants of liability, apportioning some of the damages to her anyway.
An attorney for Anne Sigouin—owner of the OB/GYN and pediatric business where the incident occurred and a defendant along with the practice itself—said the jury originally cleared his client of liability but nonetheless apportioned 10 percent of the damages to her.
Faced with that “inconsistency,” State Court Judge Shalonda Jones-Parker drew up a “supplemental verdict form” and—over the objections of all the defendants—sent the jury back for more deliberations on Sigouin’s liability, said her attorney R. Page Powell Jr.
“The jury did so and then completely changed their liability determination regarding Anne Sigouin, finding that she was liable,” said Powell. The jury again assigned 10 percent of the total verdict to her.
“The defense verdict for my other client, Life Cycle Pediatrics LLC, was not disturbed and that company was exonerated,” he said.
“We respectfully believe the court’s decision to allow the jury to reconsider the liability of Anne Sigouin was in error, depriving her of the defense verdict which she originally received,” Powell said via email.
“As a result, we intend to appeal that decision along with other decisions made by the court during the course of this litigation.”
The Daily Report was unable to reach members of the plaintiffs team or other defense lawyers, who were still in court at press time.
Powell said the jury is considering punitive damages, which the parties agreed to cap at $250,000.
A member of Jones-Parker’s staff said Friday afternoon that the verdict was not finalized and would not be available until it was filed with the clerk of the court.
During closing arguments Thursday, lawyers for the child and his mother asked jurors to keep in mind that the boy will suffer the effects of the incident for the rest of his life.
On Thursday, lead plaintiffs attorney, C. Neal Pope, launched his closing arguments with a professorial foray into the nature of time.
“What is time?” asked the Pope McGlamry partner, noting that the child, who will soon turn 5, is projected to live nearly 70 more years with the results of the “blink of an eye” incident that has already led to multiple surgeries and a permanently “deformed” penis.
“Those 18 days were the only normal days that child will have,” Pope said.
His co-counsel and firm partner Michael Blakely Jr. began closing arguments by suggesting that damages for about $80,000 in medical bills and future psychiatric counseling for the child and his mother, Stacie Willis, should justify an award of about $1 million for past and future medical bills. But Pope said the child’s pain and suffering for the rest of his life justified many times that amount, telling jurors he thought this was a “$100 million case.”
“This whole thing was a screw-up from start to finish,” said Pope, reminding jurors of testimony by a plaintiffs’ expert that there would have been an 85 percent chance the severed slice of tissue from the glans, or tip of the penis, could have been reattached if it and the child were rushed to the emergency room.
Instead, the nurse midwife who performed the circumcision, Melissa Jones, called in OB/GYN Brian Register, who worked to bring the heavy bleeding under control and called the owner of the facility, Anne Sigouin, to tell her of the incident.
He also advised Jones to call the child’s pediatrician, Abigail Kamishlian, and tell her what happened.
Kamishlian advised Jones to tell the child’s mother to take the infant to the emergency room if the bleeding started again and to come see her the next day.
An alarmed Willis instead took the child to an urgent care facility, where a doctor observed the penis had been cut but that the child seemed able to urinate without difficulty, Pope said.
The piece of tissue was stored in a refrigerator on the premises of Life Cycle OB/GYN, where it remained for what may have been as long as three months before it was discarded.
In 2014, Willis sued Jones, Brian Register, Life Cycle OB/GYN and Life Cycle Pediatrics, as well as Kamishlian and her employer, Daffodil Pediatrics.
Jones-Parker sanctioned Jones and Register earlier this year by striking their defenses because the tissue was discarded when the defendants knew there was likely to be litigation. That means those two were already deemed liable, and the trial against them was for damages only.
During closing arguments, attorneys for the three sets of co-defendants offered varying defenses.
Hall Booth Smith partner Terrell “Chip” Benton, who represents Jones and Register and the OB/GYN, agreed the child should be compensated for his injuries but urged the jury to be “fair and reasonable.” He noted the child’s injuries—while genuine—have not interfered with his ability to urinate and are not likely to interfere with his ability to have children.
“If you decide on sympathy, we lose, because we can’t compete with cute and adorable and impressive,” Benton said of the child who appeared in court on the first day of trial.
Benton said a defense expert placed the likely cost of future psychological treatment at closer to $250,000.
“We do think [the boy] is entitled to pain and suffering damages,” said Benton, suggesting between $500,000 and $1 million.
“No doctor has testified that he’ll be in physical pain in the future,” Benton said. “It’s about his loss of self-esteem.”
Jones and Register are dedicated health care professionals who “did everything they could in a difficult situation,” Benton said.
Huff Powell & Bailey partner R. Page Powell Jr., who represents Life Cycle Pediatrics and Sigouin, noted his client was not even on-site when the incident occurred and relied solely on what Register told her by phone shortly afterward.
Register assured her the situation was under control, and Sigouin took him at his word, Powell said.
The case against Sigouin is all about one phone call, Powell added.
“This was not a call for medical help,” said Powell, but “an administrative courtesy call to give her a heads-up that they had had a circumcision complication involving heavy bleeding. She made a reasonable decision not to involve herself. … Dr. Register was there.”
Powell said the allegations against Sigouin were largely “guilt by association.”
Similarly, Peters & Monyak partner Robert Monyak said his client, Kamishlian, was being blamed for assuming Jones’ account of slicing off a “sliver” of tissue was accurate.
“Their argument is that Dr. Kamishlian should have interrogated Ms. Jones,” said Monyak. “Why would she do that? It’s common and rational for one professional to believe another professional.”
“That’s their entire case” against Kamishlian, Monyak said. “It’s not fair, and it’s not true.”
The trial involved more than a dozen lawyers between all the parties.
In addition to Pope and Blakely, plaintiffs’ counsel includes Pope McGlamry lawyers Jay Hirsch, Kimberly Johnson, Courtney Engelke and Caroline McGlamry, along with Atlanta solo Jonathan Johnson.
Benton’s co-counsel is Hall Booth associate Erin Coia; Sigouin and Life Cycle Pediatrics are represented by Powell and Huff Bailey partner Michael Frankson; and Kamishlian and Daffodil Pediatrics are represented by Monyak and associate Austin Ellis.