Stolen infant's parents file suit Sinai targeted for $30 million

September 19, 1990|By Laura Lippman | Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

The parents of Avery James Norris, the baby kidnapped from Sinai Hospital a year ago, have filed a $30 million suit against the hospital.

The suit was filed late yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court, and Douglas and Linda Norris were discussing the legal action at a news conference today, their son's first birthday.

The suit seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages for a range of alleged failures on the part of Sinai, and for alleged mental suffering by the Norris family. Half the damages would be for for Avery, and half for his parents.

The suit cites anguish that Avery is predicted to suffer as he "discovers and understands the events concerning his abduction" when he was 2 days old.

Avery was taken Sept. 21, 1989, from his mother's arms by a woman dressed as nurse. He was recovered Nov. 15 from the Woodmoor home of Karleane Wilkinson, who later was found guilty of having kidnapped him.

According to testimony during Wilkinson's trial in March, Wilkinson entered Linda Norris' hospital room dressed as a nurse, a stethoscope hanging around her neck. Mrs. Norris placed the sleeping infant in a bassinet and got into bed. Wilkinson then drew the curtain around the bed, picked up the baby and disappeared.

The staff realized that Avery was missing after Mrs. Norris called the hospital nursery about her child, according to testimony at Wilkinson's trial.

At the time of the kidnapping, the hospital staff said that maternity patients are given a list of six special instructions, including a recommendation to ask to see an employee's identification badge.

"Obviously, if they want to raise that issue, we can't stop them," said Gary Wais, an attorney from one of the two firms representing the Norris family in the civil lawsuit. But he said that policy should not absolve the hospital from providing security.

Hospital staff said at the time of the kidnapping that whoever took the child seemed to be familiar with the building's layout and the staff's procedures. It came out during Wilkinson's trial that she had toured the maternity ward just days before the kidnapping, presumably because she was about to deliver her own child.

Wais said the Norrises received counseling even after their child was returned to them and they remain somewhat apprehensive about their son's safety. "No one expects a hospital is going to allow something like this to happen," he added.

Mrs. Norris said after Wilkinson was convicted: "No one will ever know how those two months affected us. Our child, he's recovered and he's obviously in good health, but there's two months we'll never know about."

Avery was recovered after Wilkinson tried to get a birth certificate for a child she claimed to have delivered at home. A clerk at the Baltimore County Health Department was suspicious after receiving the call and notified police.

The baby, who had weighed 8 pounds, 12 1/2 ounces at birth, was in good health when he was seized from the home, although Wilkinson had shaved his head for unknown reasons.

While the child strongly resembles his parents, Wilkinson's insistence that the child was hers forced the Norrises to prove they were the parents of their own child. A series of blood tests established their paternity with a 99 percent certainty.

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