Jaelin Sence was born on July 4, 2007 at New York Methodist Hospital (NYMH) in Brooklyn. He was discharged two days later after examinations and tests indicated to hospital personnel he was normal and healthy.
The next day, though, Jaelin began to vomit and show signs of serious illness. He was rushed to another hospital where he was diagnosed with hyperbilirubinemia and found to be severely neurologically and brain impaired.
After a two week trial in November 2013, a Kings County jury determined that the hospital and Jaelin’s private pediatrician had committed medical malpractice because Jaelin was suffering from jaundice during his admission at NYMH and they failed to properly examine, diagnose and treat him during that critical time (his first two days of life) when the tragic consequences that ensued could easily have been prevented.
The jury awarded pain and suffering damages in the sum of $11,015,000 ($4,000,000 past – six years, $7,015,000 future – 61 years). On appeal in Sence v. Atoynatan (2d Dept. 2016), the past pain and suffering award was reduced to $2,000,000 and, thus, the total approved pain and suffering award is $9,015,000.
The main injury sustained by Jaelin is kernicterus (brain damage from severe hyperbilirubinemia), a condition that caused cerebral palsy.
Here are the injury details:
- unable to move limbs voluntarily or in any useful manner
- unable to walk
- no head control
- cannot feed or dress himself
- cannot speak
Despite his physical and brain damage, Jaelin can see, hear and make sounds, he can track objects, responds to being called and he is aware. He goes to school and enjoys playing. According to plaintiff’s expert neurologist, an MRI showed there was no damage “in any part of the thinking brain;” instead, it showed problems in the cerebellum, which mainly involves movement.
Based upon testimony from its expert neurologist, the hospital argued that Jaelin is unaware of his condition and will have a reduced life expectancy (10-15 years) and therefore the damage awards were excessive. Plaintiff argued, though, that the jury, having been shown a short video of Jaelin and having viewed him court, was able to judge for themselves Jaelin’s awareness and ability to interact. While the appellate court reduced the past pain and suffering award from $4,000,000 to $2,000,000, it did not comment upon or disturb at all the $7,015,000 future pain and suffering award, apparently agreeing with plaintiff that Jaelin is aware of his condition and will have a life expectancy of 61 more years.
As set forth on the verdict sheet, the jury also awarded damages for:
- future medical care expenses in the sum of $12,433,300 (including $7,330,000 for home health aides, $4,282,200 for therapy, $643,550 for medical equipment and $177,510 for medical costs, all over 61 years with growth rates of about 4% per year) and
- future loss of earnings in the sum of $1,365,000 (over 39 years at the rate of $35,000 per year with growth rate increases of about 4% per year).
- Prior to and during trial, NYMH took a “no pay” position regarding settlement. After the verdict, plaintiff’s settlement demand was $12,000,000 against which the hospital offered to pay its liability insurance coverage of $7,500,000.
- Jaundice is common in newborns but it is crucial that it be treated. Plaintiff’s attorney, the renowned Thomas A. Moore, said: “I don’t know if I have ever seen a more preventable case.”