Girl, obstetrician reach $4.1 million malpractice settlement

September 01, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

A former Columbia girl, born with cerebral palsy and delivered prematurely, has reached a $4.1 million out-of-court settlement in a medical malpractice suit..

With cost-of-living increases from an annuity set up with that money, the settlement reached Monday could give Tracina Woods, now 13, up to $8.6 million during her lifetime, said her attorney, Kenneth C. Vogelstein of Baltimore.

"It's unusually large," said Mr. Vogelstein, who noted that many malpractice awards range between $200,000 to $2 million.

The obstetrician who delivered the girl, Dr. Howard Smith of Washington, says he did nothing wrong and that he agreed to settle only because a court trial would have cost him money and time. "It was much more convenient to settle out of court," he said.

Tracina, who moved with her family from Columbia to Tallahassee, Fla., a year ago, was delivered by Cesarean section Feb. 19, 1981, at Washington Hospital Center in Washington about a month before she was due, Mr. Vogelstein said.

As a result of the premature delivery, he said, Tracina suffered cerebral palsy and mild mental retardation. She attends special education classes at a public school in Tallahassee and uses a wheelchair and a walker.

"She'll probably never go past the second or third grade mentally," Mr. Vogelstein said.

Her family filed the malpractice suit in December 1992 in District of Columbia Superior Court.

Mr. Vogelstein said the money from the settlement will go toward Tracina's medical care, including vocational and occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Mr. Vogelstein said the settlement tells doctors "to be really careful in estimating the delivery date. Prematurity can cause some pretty big problems."

Dr. Smith, reached yesterday at his Washington office, said Tracina's medical problems stemmed from complications in the womb that prompted him to take aggressive measures.

"The placenta did not deliver sufficient nutrients and blood supply to enable the baby to develop normally," Dr. Smith said. "Had a Cesarean section not been performed, the baby could have been born dead."

Faced with the same circumstances today, Dr. Smith said, he would do the same thing.

"There was nothing I could have done differently," he said. "To do otherwise would be against my profession."

Under the settlement, Tracina will receive monthly payments of $9,305 with 3 percent annual increases.

Her parents, Samuel and Montinella Woods, received $350,000 in cash upon signing the agreement.

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