A Jefferson County Circuit Court jury on Friday August 5, awarded Caroline Malatesta and her husband J.T., a total of $16 million in damages after finding Brookwood Women’s Center violated the standard of care for labor and delivery and participated in reckless misrepresentation of fact.
The jury assessed $10 million in compensatory damages, $5 million in punitive damages and an additional $1 million for Mr. Malatesta on his loss of consortium claim.
The civil lawsuit, which was filed in February 2014, claimed, among other things, that the staff at Brookwood “[forced] Caroline out of her chosen labor and delivery position; [forced] Caroline to continuous fetal monitoring when she was anticipating an unmedicated delivery; [held] the baby’s head prior to delivery; [marketed] natural birth services without sufficient coordination to ensure that the medical staff and other caregivers were aware of, trained in and committed to providing the services advertised.”
The trial began on July 25 and the jury delivered their decision late in the evening on August 5, after nearly 10 hours of deliberation. During testimony, the jury heard graphic details from a teary Malatesta about the birth of her fourth child, Jack. As a result of the struggle Malatesta described with the nursing staff — all five of the nurses in the room during the birth testified that they could not recall any details in their depositions or testimonies — evidence indicated Malatesta has suffered chronic nerve damage in the form of a rare injury called Pudendal Neuralgia, which has left her in constant pain and emotional distress.
She’s forced to rest in bed and soak in a tub for hours a day due to complications with her injury, she said. The compensatory damages are expected to cover the associated healthcare costs for the rest of her life.
Malatesta, who had her first three children at St. Vincent’s, decided to make the move to Brookwood in August 2011 because of the marketing campaign that was targeted toward natural, unmedicated births. In the early morning hours of March 12, 2012, baby Jack was born, amid what has been described by the plaintiff as a traumatic situation. The defense denied that anything abnormal happened.
Malatesta testified about how Brookwood’s marketing lured her from the hospital she knew — St. Vincent’s.
“I went and interviewed at Brookwood even though I was still a patient [at St. Vincent’s],” Malatesta told the jury. “I went to talk to Dr. [William] Huggins about some of these key concepts I had read about and seen on Brookwood’s advertising… I was told they had wireless waterproof monitoring so either way I would be mobile.”
When Malatesta approached her doctor at St. Vincent’s about the possibility of performing a natural birth in the way Brookwood’s advertising described, he said that was “silly” and that all he could do in regards to a natural birth was not give her an epidural. Malatesta said that she respected his honesty but had made the decision to have a natural water birth at Brookwood.
As Malatesta’s legal team outlined over the course of the two-week trial, there were major discrepancies with what Brookwood advertised and what services were actually offered to women seeking natural births. For instance, Brookwood officially banned water births in January 2013, but continued to advertise them as late as July 15, 2015. While the defense argued these services were not available because Malatesta arrived shortly before giving birth, several facts were presented to the jury that went beyond the minimal time frame she had.
“This one to me, I think, is at the heart of why we are here,” David Marsh, one of the attorneys representing the Malatestas, explained in his closing argument. “There is no dispute that Brookwood put this ad out: ‘We work with you and your doctor to develop a personalized birth plan.’ That’s one of the things she relied on when she went over there. What do we know now? We know now that her doctor was never even contacted by Brookwood.
“There wasn’t even the most basic procedure in place to make sure that happened. Dr. Huggins was never contacted about a birth plan. And what do they want to do? They want to take it off of them and put it all on her,” Marsh said.
While Huggins was Malatesta’s OB, he was not at the hospital that morning and testified that he was never contacted about her specialized birth plan. Nurses and doctors who testified throughout the course of the trial said that the hospital had no system in place to identify which patients coming in had requested natural births and made no effort — in Malatesta’s case — to obtain the birth plan she had laid out with her doctor.
After hearing the testimony, the jury found that Brookwood had recklessly misrepresented their services to the public.
What happened the morning of the Malatesta birth and other factors that contributed to what jurors found to be Brookwood’s “reckless misrepresentation of fact” will be detailed in an in-depth look at both sides of the story in next week’s Weld cover story.