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Brian McKeen: $120+M verdict in birth injury case

Wayne Co. jury awards $120 million to Detroit mom, son in birth trauma case

Kara Berg

The Detroit News

April 1st, 2024

A Wayne County jury awarded a Detroit mother and her 13-year-old son $120 million after a four-week long medical malpractice case stemming from a delayed caesarean section that caused the child to have severe brain damage, cerebral palsy and developmental delays.

The verdict, which was issued late last week, stems from a December 2020 lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court that alleged a Henry Ford Health Systems obstetrician and four nurses were negligent in their care of mother Kirsten Drake and her unborn baby, K'Jon, in June 2010.

In a statement, Henry Ford Health said it would appeal the verdict, but could not comment further.

“At Henry Ford Health, our patients are family, and we’ve been deeply saddened for the Drake family since the birth of their son more than a decade ago," according to the statement. "At the same time, we do not believe the verdict is consistent with the facts of this case and plan to vigorously appeal the jury’s verdict."

Drake went to Henry Ford Hospital in June 2010 with complaints of swelling and edema, as well as some uterine activities that was likely false labor, attorney Brian McKeen said. She was not in labor, but at 39.5 weeks along in her pregnancy, baby K'Jon's oxygen levels began to drop due to umbilical cord compression and decreased variability, which can cause issues if delivery is delayed, according to the facilitation summary filed by Drake's attorneys. He had adequate oxygen when he was checked upon Drake's arrival.

The obstetrician, Leila Hajjar-Nolan, called for a c-section at 9:51 p.m. due to “non reassuring fetal heart tones,” but K’Jon wasn’t born until 12:11 a.m. after the obstetrical team “negligently dragged their heels and unnecessarily delayed delivery.”

Drake did not understand much about an emergency C-section, McKeen said, and did not know what the time frame should be. She was at the mercy of her doctors, he said.

"It boils down to, if you're going to be delivering the baby because you're concerned about the baby's heart rate, why would you delay?" McKeen said. "There's simply no reason to wait. Only bad things can happen. There's no benefit to be gained from waiting."

As a result, K’Jon was born asphyxiated and was left with severe and permanent brain damage. He has severe cerebral palsy, severe developmental delays and a seizure disorder. He is non-verbal, uses a wheelchair and has limited vision. He is fully dependent on his mother and grandmother, who are his full-time caretakers because they cannot afford in-home help, McKeen said.

"This money will be life-changing and hopefully life-saving, at least for a number of years," McKeen said. "It is an unspeakable tragedy and this was a completely preventable tragic outcome. ... Had he been delivered properly, he would be a normal little 13-year-old boy looking forward to his 14th birthday."

McKeen said the doctors’ negligence caused devastating brain damage, and had they exercised reasonable judgement, this outcome could have been avoided. He said Henry Ford's legal team and Hajjar offered no legitimate reason for Hajjar's delay in the c-section.

“It is heartbreaking for Kirsten and K’Jon’s grandmother to watch him struggle to communicate, move, and do simple things that healthy people take for granted," McKeen wrote in the facilitation summary.

The majority of the Drake’s day is spent taking care of K’Jon. His mother and grandmother have dedicated their lives to caring for him, and while they would like to be able to hire professionals to give him therapy and home care, they cannot afford to do so. They’d also like to build a house that has more space and is better equipped to meet K’Jon’s needs, and to make sure he is cared for in his advanced years.

“The injuries inflicted on K’Jon are catastrophic. He cannot do anything for himself," McKeen wrote. "K’Jon is totally dependent on others. He has been robbed of a normal life."

McKeen said it's disheartening that Henry Ford is choosing to immediately appeal the verdict, rather than pay Drake what the jury determined they owed her. Drake will not be able to get any money until appeals are over, McKeen said.

"(Drake and K'Jon's grandmother) appreciate the jurors' hard work and the fact that they can see through the smoke screen defenses," McKeen said.

Jury awards Detroit mom, boy $120 million award in birth trauma case (

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