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Court upholds medical malpractice in a case involving a baby with brain damage. Young v. Heller (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2022)


In a medical malpractice case where the jury found the defendants liable for the plaintiff’s birth injury, the second department was asked to determine whether a new trial should be ordered.

On June 1, 2010, 38 years old Vashti Daisely, who was in the late stages of pregnancy, went to the emergency room at Vassar Brothers Medical Center. She had contacted her doctor when she was concerned about decreased fetal movement. Her doctor instructed her to immediately go to the nearest emergency room.  She was seen by Dr. Kimberly Heller and Dr. Donna Kasello.

After undergoing testing, the doctors discharged her without admitting her.  However, the very next day, June 2, 2010, Daisely went to the Westchester Medical Center and delivered her son via emergency c-section.  The baby was diagnosed with brain damage and accumulated significant medical expenses.

On behalf of her infant son. Daisely filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against defendants  Dr. Kimberly Heller, Dr. Donna Kasello, and Vassar Brothers. Daisely alleged that defendants rendered negligent medical care on June 1st when she was a patient at Vassar Brothers, and as a result, her son suffered serious injury.  Daisely argued that the defendants were negligent in not delivering her baby on June 1st and for discharging her.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Daisely.  They concluded that while not delivering Daisely’s baby on June 1st was not a sign of negligence, failing to admit her and monitoring her was negligent. The jury also found that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial cause of the baby’s injuries.

The defendants filed a motion to set aside the verdict and requested a new trial which the Supreme Court denied.  The defendants appealed.

Supreme court’s decision
The Supreme Court, Second Department reviewed the jury’s decision.  New York law provides that in a personal injury case where there is a jury trial, the court may only set aside a jury verdict if the verdict is not supported by legally sufficient evidence. Here, the court concluded that there was a rational basis for its decision. Based on the evidence presented, the jury found that defendant Kasello was not negligent when she made a decision not to delivery Daisely’s baby on June 1st when she arrived at the emergency room.  The jury did find that defendant Kasello was negligent for another reason.  The jury found that instead of discharging her, Kasello should have admitted Daisely on June 1st. If they had admitted her, they could have monitored her and delivered the baby if there were signs of distress. The court concluded that “the jury’s findings on the issue of Kasello’s liability were based upon a fair interpretation of the evidence and, thus, were not contrary to the weight of the evidence…”

Proving medical malpractice
Note that just because a patient suffers injuries during a medical procedure or while being treated by a medical professional does not mean that the healthcare professional was negligent.  To prove negligence, the plaintiff in this case, Daisely’s infant son, had to show the presence of 4 factors:

  • The existence of a doctor-patient relationship. The plaintiff had to show that he was in a doctor-patient relationship with defendants Dr. Kimberly Heller, Dr. Donna Kasello, and Vassar Brothers. One way to prove that such a relationship existed was by showing medical bills and other records with the names of the treating physicians and the name of the facility. The doctor-patient relationship obligates the medical professional or facility to provide the patient with a certain standard of care.
  • Breach of the duty of care. Because of the doctor-patient relationship, the doctors treating the patient is required by law to adhere to a certain level of care. Failure to do so would be negligent.  Here, the jury concluded by discharging Daisely, the defendant breached their duty of care.
  • Causation of the patient’s injuries. The negligent treatment by the defendants must have caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Here, the jury concluded that because the defendants discharged Daisely instead of admitting her and monitoring her baby, her baby was injured.
  • Damages suffered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff must show that they suffered damages due to the defendant’s negligence. Here, medical evidence shows that the plaintiff suffered a brain injury as a result of the defendant’s actions.
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