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The Utah Supreme Court has vacated a jury verdict and sent back for another trial a malpractice lawsuit in which a Utah County couple alleged Intermountain Healthcare employees caused severe brain damage to their son during birth.
Jerome and Leilani Wilson had alleged that their son, Jared, suffered seizures that caused severe brain damage after his 1995 birth because doctors at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center did not deliver him via cesarean section as a high-risk specialist had recommended.
But a Utah County jury in a 19-day trial in 2008 found in Intermountain Healthcare's favor.
In a 4-1 decision released Friday, justices overturned the decision and sent the case back to 4th District Court. They cited an Intermountain attorney who, during the trial, repeatedly violated a court order that prohibited attorneys from mentioning that payment for many of Jared's expenses came not from the Wilsons but from "collateral sources," private insurers and public programs.
"During the trial on this matter, IHC's counsel adopted a strategy of persistently and deliberately referring to collateral source evidence," Justice Jill N. Parish wrote in the majority opinion. "These references violated the trial court's … order, misled the trial court and substantially prejudiced the Wilsons' case."
An Intermountain Healthcare spokesman said the decision was under review and there would be no immediate comment.
Karra Porter, an attorney for the Wilsons, praised the decision, saying "it was apparent throughout the trial that IHC had made a strategic decision to introduce improper evidence."
She pointed out that the court also ruled that one of Jared Wilson's doctors and Intermountain lawyers "engaged in improper conduct by discussing Jared's confidential medial information without telling the Wilsons."
Justice Thomas R. Lee dissented, saying he found no error by the trial court "given that the trial judge sustained every viable objection raised by plaintiffs' counsel and took every appropriate action to keep the collateral sources evidence from the jury."
When Leilani Wilson became pregnant with couple's third child, they sought out a high-risk pregnancy specialist who recommended a cesarean section if there were signs of infection, labor or fetal distress.
But then the specialist went on vacation and arranged for two other physicians to take over her case. When one of them arrived at the hospital after being summoned by a nurse, he determined that a vaginal delivery was imminent and Jared was born shortly after, the court decision says.
The boy was diagnosed with brain seizures 10 days later, and the Wilson alleged the seizures resulted from the hospital's failure "to deliver Jared by cesarean section on a timely basis," the Supreme Court decision said.