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Colorado Family Loses Medical Malpractice Case

Plaintiffs Liable for Hospital's Legal FeesAs one family from Boulder, Colorado found out this month, sometimes a lost medical malpractice case can leave the plaintiffs with a hefty bill to cover the defendants’ legal fees. A judge ordered the Warden family to pay $340,000 after a lengthy four-week medical malpractice trial ended in favor of Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center.

The medical malpractice case

On December 22, 2008, Stacy Warden endured nine hours of labor before going in for an emergency C-section. When baby Noah emerged, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, he was unresponsive and had no heartbeat. After several minutes of resuscitation efforts, Noah’s heartbeat resumed and he was placed on a ventilator. An MRI scan revealed that the child suffered from severe acute hypoxic-ischemic encephalophy (HIE) – brain damage from oxygen deprivation that would require life-long care. By age 3, Noah could still not walk or talk.

The Warden family filed a medical malpractice case against Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center in 2010, alleging that the doctor and two nurses on staff failed to properly monitor data generated by the fetal monitoring strip during birth. They should have been able to detect the signs of fetal distress and intervene with a C-section sooner, the Wardens argued.

Exempla argued that the baby’s injuries occurred days or possibly weeks before birth. Placental pathologist Dr. Weslie Tyson examined Noah’s umbilical cord after birth and found evidence of muscle death in the umbilical vein wall, clotting of the umbilical vein and poor blood supply in the cord – all of which indicated prior difficulty receiving adequate oxygen flow. Despite having expert witnesses of their own, some of the rebuttal testimony was excluded and the medical center wound up winning the medical malpractice trial.

What the Warden family is responsible for paying

Following the medical malpractice trial, the Warden family’s exorbitant bill included:

  • All hospital legal filing fees and attorney fees
  • Coffee, snacks, ice cream and frozen yogurt for all witnesses and defendants
  • Dinners and room service fees, including one witness’s expenses that totaled $999.06
  • Transportation expenses, including car service and airline fees for a witness

Initially, the bill included a $250 hotel fine after one of the nurses in the suit was caught smoking in a non-smoking hotel room. The charge was eventually removed after the Wardens’ attorney objected. Judge James C. Klein signed off on the vast majority of the expenses, demonstrating the unsung consequences of pursuing a medical malpractice case. By law, defendants have the right to seek compensation for expenses should they win.

Despite devastating loss, plaintiffs say they would do it all again

“We didn’t actually believe that we would lose, let alone somebody going after a family with a severely disabled child,” Stacy Warden told Channel 9 News. “I wanted to have faith people had more compassion than that.” Even knowing the outcome, she said the medical malpractice case was worth fighting for and she wouldn’t want other families to hesitate taking their malpractice lawsuit to trial if they feel they have been wronged. The Wardens say they plan to file bankruptcy to settle the $340,000 bill.