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Montgomery County jury awards $1.5M in wrongful death case

The parents of a stillborn child have been awarded nearly $1 million after a jury found that negligence by a Rockville hospital and its obstetrician/gynecologist caused the prenatal death of their son.

The Montgomery County Circuit Court jury had awarded $1.5 million to Eva Hernandez Osorio and Elmer Artiga after hearing testimony that Dr. Neil J. Horlick at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital negligently waited nearly five hours before delivering the child despite a heart monitor showing the fetus was in cardiac distress.

The award was reduced by more than $550,000 — to $943,750 — due to Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages. The jury also awarded the parents $2,364 for funeral expenses, bringing the total to $946,114.

The parents’ attorney, Kevin P. Sullivan, called the litigation emotionally draining for them as they endured multiple postponements that included a months’ long closure of the courts to stanch the spread of COVID-19.

As for himself, Sullivan called the litigation “very nerve-racking,” adding that the facts of the case clearly showed negligence.

“You don’t know how a jury is going to turn out,” said Sullivan, of Salsbury Sullivan LLC in Baltimore.

Montgomery County juries, in particular, have a reputation among plaintiffs’ attorneys for being defendant-friendly in medical malpractice cases and unwilling to award substantial damages even when they find the hospital liable.

But Sullivan said that has not been his experience and certainly not in this case.

“If you have good facts on your side, we’re comfortable litigating a case anywhere,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “We’re not intimidated.”

The defense’s attorney, Catherine W. Steiner, said Wednesday that the verdict will not be appealed.

“It was an amicably tried case,” said Steiner, of Pessin Katz Law PA in Towson. “There are no appealable issues.”

Hernandez Osario arrived at Shady Grove in active labor and at full term shortly after midnight on July 19, 2015, according to the parents’ complaint. About four hours later, she began receiving doses of the hormone oxytocin to aid in delivery.

At 9:10 a.m., the fetus showed the first sign of cardiac distress as a monitor detected a too-fast heart rate of 160 beats per minute, the complaint stated. Horlick, the OB/GYN, chose to wait.

At 12:30 p.m., Hernandez Osario felt intense pain in her abdomen, the complaint stated.

Shortly before 2 p.m., Hernandez Osario was taken to the operating room for an emergency caesarean section. The fetus, identified in the complaint as John Doe, was delivered with no detectable heart rate. Efforts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.

The parents filed their wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Horlick on Feb. 1, 2018.

During the five-day trial, the jury heard dueling medical testimony regarding whether Horlick’s decision to hold off on delivery despite the fetus’ accelerated heart rate deviated from the appropriate standard of care. The jurors deliberated two hours before rendering their verdict for the parents last week.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Ronald B. Rubin presided over the trial. The case was docketed as Eva Hernandez Osario and Elmer Ulises Abrego Artiga v. Adventist Healthcare Inc. d/b/a Shady Grove Adventist Hospital et al., No. 442928V.