Verdict of the Week
Heart Repair Resulted in Brain Damage
By Margaret Cronin Fisk Staff Reporter
Born with a hole in his heart, 2-month-old Gary Juliana II went to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, FL, on February 2, 1996, to get the defect repaired. Although the operation was not considered particularly dangerous, plaintiff's attorney Christopher P. Jayson said that "Gary went in with a bad heart and good brain and came out with a good heart and a bad brain."
During surgery, the technician operating the heart-lung machine failed to provide sufficient oxygen to the child.This technician, the per fusionist, is supposed to check the patients blood gases and make corrections to ensure sufficient oxygen. But according to Jayson, he did not make the proper adjustments, and the boy sustained massive, permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen. Gary, who is now 6, has cerebral palsy, is blind, can't talk and is so retarded that his I.Q. is "un testable," said Jayson.
His parents sued Shands Teaching Hospital and Clinics Inc. and the perfusionist, Rene Riviera-Santiago, charging negligence. Riviera-Santiago settled before trial for $2 million. The hospital contended that Riviera-Santiago was 100% at fault and that there was no vicarious liability because he was an independent contractor. Last July, however, the trial judge ruled against the hospital on the agency issue, determining that operation of a heart-lung machine is not a delegable duty.
Although the jury considered only damages, the plaintiffs were concerned that many prospective jurors had connections to Shands, one of the county's largest employers. As a result , four of the six jurors had past or present affiliation to Shands, including one whose girlfriend worked there. Still , the Gainesville jury came through for the plaintiff: On Jan. 15, it awarded $10.83 million, which is believed to be the highest personal injury award in Alachua County history.
Plaintiff's Attorneys: Barry A. Cohen, Christopher P. Jayson, Arthur B.Skafidas, Cohen, Jayson & Foster, Tampa, FL.
Defense Attorney: John Jopling, Dell Graham, Gainesville, FL.