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August 19, 2003 - Jury Awards $12.5 Million to Paralyzed Boy

In one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts in Connecticut state history, a jury ordered Hartford Hospital to pay $12.5 million to a boy who became paralyzed from the neck down while awaiting surgery for a spinal tumor 7 years ago.

The award came after a 10-week trial and 5 days of deliberations. The boy, Justin Iriondo, was brought to Hartford Hospital when he was 5 years old after he complained of severe neck pain. Doctors diagnosed a spinal cord tumor, but before he was treated, complications developed and the child became a quadriplegic. After the verdict, Justin said, "I think justice was served."

The jury agreed with the boy's lawyers that hospital workers failed to adequately monitor him and failed to react to a medical student's documentation that the boy had lost movement of his arms and legs. The jury awarded $9.8 million in economic losses for the future cost of Justin's care and his lost earning capacity. An economist had testified that the cost of care would be about $28 million, based on a life expectancy of 70 years. The jury also awarded $2.7 million for pain and suffering.

Augustus Southworth III, a lawyer for the hospital, said hospital staff provided appropriate care for Justin, now 12. He said the medical crisis the boy suffered was rare, with one expert testifying that the odds of it happening were one in 62 million. Southworth said it was too early to say whether the hospital will appeal the decision. Lawyers for the hospital also could ask Superior Court Judge John Langenbach to set aside the verdict.

The hospital issued a statement saying jury awards such as this one may benefit an individual, but contribute to the crisis of steeply rising malpractice insurance costs.

The tumor inside Justin's spinal column was slow-growing, but benign. He was taken to the hospital on Oct. 30, 1995. The tumor was diagnosed the next day, and surgery was scheduled for Nov. 3.

The largest medical malpractice verdict in Connecticut was $27 million, awarded to William Jacobs in 1999 against Yale-New Haven Hospital, after a surgical resident punctured his aorta during heart surgery, leaving Jacobs blind and brain-damaged at 19. The next largest verdict, later reversed by the state Supreme Court, was $12.2 million, awarded in 1997 to "Dr. Doe," a first-year medical student at Yale University School of Medicine, who contracted the AIDS virus from a needle-stick injury. Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder represented the plaintiffs in those cases as well.

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