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Jury Awards $1.14 Million to Girl Injured at Birth

April 25, 1998  ·  By HM&M



A 3-year-old Elmhurst girl has been awarded $1.14 million in a medical malpractice suit for losing the use of her right arm from birth, attorneys said Friday.

Records indicated the judgment was high for traditionally conservative DuPage County.

The girl, Courtney Moles, was delivered August 17, 1994 by Dr. Christopher A. Barbour of West Suburban Obstetrics and Gynecology in Downers Grove.

During a 19-hour delivery, there was difficulty in delivering the girl’s shoulders, a condition known as shoulder dystocia, which occurs in about 2 percent of births.

The delivery stretched the girl’s brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves in the neck leading to the arm.

The girl’s attorneys argued that Barbour applied too much force while using forceps to deliver the baby, and stretched the nerves, resulting in permanent damage.

The plaintiff’s witness, Dr. Gerald Zatuchni, former head of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Medical School, testified that the doctor did not recognize the problem in time, and kept pulling though the shoulders were not emerging.

He said that’s the only way the injuries could have occurred.

Barbour’s attorney, Dorothy French, said the doctor used the forceps appropriately, only to deliver the head, and immediately took steps to release the shoulders.

The injury can occur naturally before or in labor, French said.

“There’s a tremendous sympathy factor,” French said, when a 3-year-old child cannot use her arm.

The doctor planned to ask the judge to overturn the verdict, arguing it did not match the evidence.

This is the only verdict against Barbour, French said, after delivering 5,000 babies in 20 years.

The award was the largest known jury verdict for such an injury in DuPage County, according to the Jury Verdict Reporter, a trade publication.

The money is to be put in a trust for the girl’s medical expenses, therapy and education, not for the parents’s use, their attorney Mark McKenna said. The plaintiff’s lead attorney, Christopher Hurley, had asked for $2.5 million.`

The parents, John and Sarah Moles, said they were happy with the verdict, declining further comment.

The jury deliberated more than nine hours over two days before returning the verdict Thursday to Circuit Judge Edward Duncan.

DuPage was known for conservative juries, French said, but after high awards in the last two years, she said, “not anymore.”

“The jurors in DuPage,” McKenna said, “tend to be well-educated and knowledgeable and work very hard. In Cook, people just don’t show up. In DuPage, juries take it very seriously.”

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