Jury awards $5 million to retarded 5-year-old

April 27, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Sun Staff Writer

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury has awarded $5 million to a girl whose retardation, speech disorder and seizures were blamed in a lawsuit on the obstetrician who fractured her skull with a pair of forceps in the delivery nearly five years ago.

The nine-member jury deliberated three hours over testimony presented in the three-week trial before deciding in favor of Hanifa Tashay Abdul-Hakeem who, with her mother, Wanda Abdul-Hakeem, had sued Dr. Sally Sondergaard and her employer, Gabbay Feldman & Pearlman PA.

Hanifa was born by Caesarean section at Sinai Hospital May 30, 1989, after her mother had undergone 30 hours of labor and Dr. Sondergaard -- concerned about fetal distress -- had attempted to turn and pull her through the birth canal using forceps.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, LaVonna L. Vice, presented testimony from medical experts that the skull fracture inflicted by the forceps caused brain damage that will afflict Hanifa all of her life.

Ronald U. Shaw, the attorney representing Dr. Sondergaard and the medical association she worked for, called witnesses, including Johns Hopkins pediatric neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, who attributed the retardation to a rare congenital disorder, pachygyria -- and not the forceps or any other event at birth.

"It appeared to me the jury was overwhelmed by their sympathy for the child, despite instructions from the judge that sympathy shouldn't play any role in their decision," Mr. Shaw said of the decision returned Friday and formally filed in the court Monday.

"We will undoubtedly take an appeal," Mr. Shaw said.

The case was tried before a six-member jury in the same court in September, but that panel was unable to reach a verdict after five days of deliberations. All but one member had voted in favor of the plaintiffs, Ms. Vice said.

Mrs. Abdul-Hakeem's husband, Amin, was shot to death four months after Hanifa's birth. Mrs. Abdul-Hakeem, 43, of Randallstown once was a Sinai Hospital technician. She said she had to stop working to care for the baby. She has three older children.

Ms. Vice said money from the jury award, if it is upheld, will be placed in trust to provide for lifetime care of the child.

"I'm greatly relieved to know that if anything happens to me, Hanifa will not be placed in a state hospital," Mrs. Abdul-Hakeem said.

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