Case: Odette Acanda, as personal representative for the estate of Ryan Rodriguez, deceased v. Public Health Trust of Miami Dade County, d/b/a Jackson Memorial Hospital

Case no.: 06-20016-CA-01, Miami-Dade Circuit Court

Description: Medical negligence

Filing date: Sept. 29, 2006

Trial date: Aug. 6, 2007

Judge: Victoria S. Sigler

Plaintiff attorneys: Maria Tejedor and Carlos Diez-Arguelles, partners at Martinez Manglardi Diez-Arguelles & Tejedor, Orlando

Defense attorneys: Stephen Stieglitz and Eric Gressman, Miami-Dade County attorney’s office

Details: Odette Acanda was seven months pregnant when she went to her doctor for a routine prenatal care visit. Concerned that Acanda’s amniotic fluid levels were low, the doctor sent her to the public Jackson Memorial Hospital. On Feb. 5, 2005, Acanda delivered Ryan Rodriguez nearly two months early through induced labor.

Ryan was put in a make-shift incubator and provided oxygen, the suit states. But five days after his birth, he died of an infection.

An autopsy revealed the infection was acquired at the hospital, according to the suit.

He was survived by his mother, Acanda, and his father, Alexis Rodriguez.

Ryan’s estate sued the Public Health Trust of Miami-Dade County, the hospital’s governing body. The suit claimed the hospital’s inadequate sterilization caused the infection, and that the medical residents and nurses did not do an adequate job of catching it or treating it in time. The estate asked for $4 million for the parents’ pain and suffering.

Before the suit was filed, the estate settled for an undisclosed amount with the University of Miami medical school, whose faculty physicians staff the hospital.

Plaintiff case: Diez-Arguelles said the hospital staff failed to promptly diagnose and treat an infection that Ryan acquired at the hospital. Diez-Arguelles said Ryan had symptoms of an infection for a few days, including a fever and high white blood count.

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The resident physicians and nurses, he contended, failed to place Ryan in an adequately sterile environment and neglected to follow doctors’ orders to test for infections. Tejedor said it took a few days for an adequate incubator to be obtained for Ryan. She said babies born two months early normally have a very good survival rate.

The suit claims the doctors did not order antibiotics until nearly two days after the infection was identified on a lab report. The antibiotics were ordered just hours before Ryan died.

Defense case: Stieglitz said the resident physicians and nurses who were named in the suit were not the decision makers for the baby’s treatment. That duty, the defense said, belonged to the attending physicians from University of Miami, which already settled out of the suit. The defense also claimed that this type of infection, which occurred very quickly with Ryan, is difficult to treat because it moves rapidly throughout a patient’s body.

Outcome: Following a weeklong trial, the jury deliberated for five hours before finding the hospital 100 percent responsible and awarding Acanda and Rodriguez $2 million.

Acanda received $1.2 million for past and future pain and suffering. Rodriguez was awarded $800,000 for past and future pain and suffering. Both Acanda and Rodriguez are beneficiaries of their son’s estate. A 2003 state law caps pain and suffering damages in malpractice cases to $250,000 per claimant, Tejedor said. The plaintiff would have to win legislative passage of a claims bill to collect more than $200,000 due to the state’s sovereign immunity law.

Comments: “The jury verdict spoke loud and clear about how negligent the jury thought Jackson Memorial was,” Tejedor said. “This is a death that should not have happened.”

“Hospital-acquired infections shouldn’t happen in the first place, and if they happen they should be caught and dealt with,” Diez-Arguelles said. “You shouldn’t die from a hospital-acquired infection.”

Stieglitz said: “The people we are defending were the employees of the hospital. They didn’t have the authority or training to make the ultimate decision as to the course of treatment.”

Post-verdict: Stieglitz said post-trial motions have been filed seeking a directed verdict in favor of the hospital or a new trial. If the post-trial motions aren’t successful, Stieglitz said his client would consider appealing.

— Jordana Mishory