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Jury returns $14.4 million verdict to family of brain-damaged boy

Updated: October 27, 2012 6:14AM

Ryan Hill was born brain-damaged. He suffers from cerebral palsy and frequent seizures and requires around-the-clock care. His mother can no longer work.

On Monday, 13 years after Ryan’s birth, a jury awarded his family $14.4 million, ruling the fault for Ryan’s condition lies with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Comprehensive Women’s Heath Care and the doctor who delivered him, Elisa Sabbagha.

After a 3 1/2-week trial, the jury took six hours to return the verdict in favor of Ryan and his parents, Jennifer and Ted Hill, who formerly lived in Lombard.

“They feel a great sense of relief, because it has been a long time,” said their attorney, Christopher Hurley.

“It’s bittersweet,” added Hurley. “Even though it was a very fair result from the jury, their first child is brain-damaged. It’s hard to jump for joy.”

But the attorney for the doctor denied wrongdoing, and a spokeswoman for the hospital said they might appeal.

The suit was filed in 2006 by the boy’s parents who now live in New Jersey and have two other children, an 11-year-old and 5-year-old.

Jennifer Hill was 42 weeks pregnant on Oct. 26, 1998, when she went to see Sabbagha, according to the suit.

Testing performed on the fetus by the doctor was “non-reassuring,” but she was sent home when she should have been kept at the hospital so labor could be induced, the suit said. She went to Northwestern the next morning, and at 6:35 a.m., she was given the medication Pitocin by nurses, the suit said. But she experienced “extremely slow labor,” and the baby’s heart indicated distress at 9 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., the suit states.

A C-section should have been initiated, the suit said. The mother also experienced a Pitocin-triggered medical condition that should have led nurses to reduce or discontinue the medication, but they did not, the suit said.

At about 12:30 a.m. Oct. 28, the doctor attempted to extract the baby with forceps, then with a vacuum, both of which failed, before the doctor finally called for a C-section at 1 a.m., the suit says. It says he first repaired multiple lacerations from the forceps before delivering the baby at 1:26 a.m.

“Risks were taken without consulting the family. Had the risks of what was happening been discussed with them, they would have asked for earlier intervention by C-section,” Hurley said.

Sabbagha’s attorney, Richard Donohue, said he had “never been more disappointed in a verdict.”

“Medical evidence in this case clearly established the child, unfortunately, suffered a stroke before birth,” he said. “The doctor did nothing wrong.”

Northwestern spokeswoman Kris Lathan said the hospital could appeal the verdict.

“We empathize with the family and respect the jury process, but are disappointed in the result and are considering our options,” she said.

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