After a four-week trial, a New Jersey jury in Gloucester County found that the negligence of two emergency room doctors led to the continued abuse of an infant, who suffered permanent brain damage as a result. The jury awarded the child’s mother $45 million in damages because the doctors failed to diagnose the child’s broken leg, which would have been reported to the state and required an investigation into how the child sustained his injury.
Sabrina Bonilla first noticed that Ethan, her two-month-old infant, could not straighten his leg and was in severe pain a few days after Thanksgiving in 2005. She brought Ethan to the emergency room at the former South Jersey Medical Center, now the Inspira Medical Center at Vineland, and based on his examination, Dr. Dominic Diorio ordered X-rays. The results were transmitted remotely to a radiologist who informed Diorio that no leg fracture could be observed from the film. Diorio then sent Ethan home with a clean bill of health.
The next day, an on-site radiologist examined the X-rays, and told the attending physician, Dr. Ilmia Choudhary, that there might indeed be a femur fracture and more X-rays were needed to verify. But Choudhary never ordered the additional X-rays and never informed the family that the child may have a fracture in his leg. In addition, the physician did not report the incident to the state’s child protection agency. Choudhary’s attorney, however, claimed that the doctor never received any report from the radiologist.
In December 2005, a few weeks later, Sabrina Bonilla observed her son Ethan experiencing a seizure and rushed him back to the same emergency room. The infant was then examined and found to have suffered a skull fracture, intracranial bleeding, a series of fractures in his ribs, and a healing fracture in his right leg that previously went undiagnosed. The injuries caused Ethan permanent brain damage and for the next few years he had to be fed through a tube.
At that point the Division of Youth and Family Services was brought in to investigate. Shortly thereafter John Burgos, Ethan’s father, admitted to Vineland police officers that he had thrown his son out frustration on two separate occasions, which caused the injuries. Bonilla’s attorneys alleged in court that if Ethan’s initial leg fracture had been properly diagnosed his father’s abuse would have been identified earlier, preventing the fracture to his skull. John Burgos was sentenced to eight years in prison for his actions.
The jury deliberated for six hours before handing down the $45 million judgment. They found that 60 percent or $27 million of the fault was with the father, John Burgos, 35 percent or $15.75 million of the fault rested with Dr. Ilmia Choudhary, and five percent or $2.25 million of the fault was with Dr. Dominic Diorio.
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