A Lackawanna County judge has opened court records in a case involving a $19.5 million settlement between a mother whose child was born with brain damage and a hospital.
Lackawanna Court of Common Pleas Judge Terrence Nealon denied the defendants’ motion to permanently seal the case.
The plaintiff, Carolina Hughes, sued several Lackawanna County health care professionals, arguing their conduct caused her son to be born with a hypoxic brain injury that left him dependent on a feeding tube, and unable to walk, crawl or stand. The defendants included Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, OB-GYN Associates, Moses Taylor Hospital and two doctors.
According to Nealon’s opinion, the defendants had argued that the settlement should be sealed to spare them possible embarrassment and to make them more receptive to future settlement offers. They also argued that the settlement amount was not of interest to the public.
“The secrecy interests identified by the defendants do not defeat the presumption in favor of open judicial records so as to justify the court-sanctioned secrecy of the settlements,” Nealon wrote in his opinion. “Affording the public access to voluntary malpractice settlements also serves the public interest by serving consumers with information that they deem relevant to their health care decisions.”
Of the $19.5 million settlement, $6.8 million was devoted to attorney fees for Philadelphia-based Ross Feller Casey, who represented the plaintiffs. Attorney Matthew Casey did not respond to a request for comment.
Burns White attorney Stuart O’Neal is representing Wilkes-Barre Hospital. James Doherty of Scanlon, Howley & Doherty is representing OB-GYN Associates and Dr. Lori DelGaudio. Gross McGinley attorney Howard Stevens is handling the case for Moses Taylor Hospital. None of the three attorneys returned calls seeking comment.
According to a previous opinion from Nealon, Hughes alleged that she came to the OB-GYN Associates offices on Sept. 6, 2012, which was 19 days before the baby’s due date. She complained of headache, dizziness, nausea, backache, hypertension and possible decreased fetal movement, Nealon said.
The practice called Theresa Baseski, the on-call obstetrician, who was located at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and gave instructions to the staff over the phone, Nealon said. According to the allegations in the complaint, Hughes was sent home with instructions to “take Tylenol every four-to-six hours for her headache, to apply Bengay cream for back pain, and to eat bland food for the rest of the day.”
The next day Hughes returned to OB-GYN Associates and was seen by DelGaudio, who is also a defendant in the case. Testing was performed, which showed a decrease in the fetal heart rate, and an abnormal biophysical profile.
Hughes contended that DelGaudio also delayed in properly treating her by waiting more than two hours to send Hughes to the hospital, and that there was another delay in treatment after DelGaudio ordered the cesarean section.
Hughes contended, among other things, that Baseski or staff at OB-GYN Associations should have ordered a biophysical profile, performed an ultrasound, or recommended she go to a hospital. That conduct, along with the staff’s recommendation that she take Tylenol, Bengay and eat bland food, amounted to acting “recklessly indifferent,” Hughes contended.