After a two-week medical malpractice trial, an Arkansas jury awarded more than $46 million in damages to the family of two-year-old Kara Smalls. The jury found that the brain damage sustained by the toddler could have been avoided if not for the negligence of Dr. Jonathan Lewis and the Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden, Arkansas. Attorneys representing the Smalls family argued that Dr. Lewis failed to properly treat Kara’s newborn jaundice, which led to severe and irreversible brain damage.
Every year in the United States there are more than 200,000 cases of newborn jaundice, a liver condition that causes the yellowing of an infant’s skin and eyes from a high level of bilirubin. In the majority of cases the condition goes away on its own, but in some rare instances the level of bilirubin is so high that the baby must be treated with phototherapy to prevent any permanent damage. Regardless of the severity, hospitals are required to administer blood tests for the condition and must not rely on visual evidence that can be misleading.
According to Smalls’ parents they were sent home with Kara in June 2014 despite signs that she was suffering from high levels of bilirubin. They also alleged that the medical staff did not administer phototherapy or conduct additional blood tests to determine if Kara was at risk of any permanent damage. After having Kara home for three days the Smalls noticed something was wrong, brought her to a doctor, and learned that she was suffering from a high level of bilirubin that had already spread to her brain tissue.
Because of the negligence Kara Smalls will likely be confined to a wheelchair, never be able to speak, walk, or feed herself, and she will require 24-hour medical treatment seven days a week, for the rest of her life. The verdict was reached because the doctor and hospital were found to ignore national patient safety guidelines that have outlined the proper procedures for treating newborn jaundice, which if followed could have prevented any brain damage. Kara’s family history was also allegedly ignored, as her older sister had suffered from newborn jaundice and was treated for the condition as an infant.
“We are encouraged by the jury’s commitment to the patient safety rules for South Arkansas, and we are thrilled that the jury devoted itself to a verdict that would provide for Kara Smalls, age 2 ½, for the rest of her life,” said the Smalls’ family attorney. “Newborn babies need and deserve competent medical care in all of the United States, whether it’s Ouachita County, AR, Pulaski County AR, Miami, FL, or anywhere else in the country.”