WEST CHESTER A Chester County Court jury has awarded $32.8 million to a 4-year-old girl, concluding that she suffered brain damage at birth because nurses at Phoenixville Hospital failed to alert doctors about changes in her condition.
After a two-week trial, the jury on Friday found two nurses were negligent when they waited 13 minutes to tell doctors that Lilly Ciechoski's heart rate had dropped, the family's lawyer said. The same jury found that a third nurse and the hospital were not to blame for the girl's injuries.
The verdict was among the highest ever given by a jury in the county, according to the family's lawyer. Most of it will help pay for her future medical expenses.
"This is her second chance at life," said the girl's mother, Leslie Proffitt of North Coventry Township. "I think [the jury] saw her determination and could see this is not a little girl who is going to be stuck in a chair for the rest of her life."
Lilly developed spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy after Proffitt went into labor on Nov. 14, 2009, at Phoenixville Hospital. The family's lawyer, Jason Archinaco, said two nurses who came to the room when the baby's heart rate dropped failed to alert doctors for 13 minutes.
Due to other delays, Lilly was not delivered until about 30 minutes after that, resulting in the loss of oxygen and brain damage, Archinaco said.
Today, Lilly experiences spasms in her arms and legs, has little control of her neck, and suffers from developmental delays, Archinaco said. But she's making strides, the lawyer said, and she took a few steps toward her mother's outstretched arms during the trial as evidence of her potential to continue to learn skills.
"She walked four steps in that courtroom. And the jury watched," he said. "It was a really beautiful moment. Little did she know that she won the case when she took those four steps, I think."
The hospital's lawyer, Andy McCumber, said the hospital had not decided whether to appeal the verdict. He referred other questions to the hospital, where a spokeswoman, Lori Cunningham, declined to comment Tuesday.
The two nurses whom the jury found to be negligent - Christine Winter and Lana Jones-Sandy - are no longer employed by the hospital and no longer live in the area, Archinaco said. Both were represented by the hospital's lawyer.
A doctor, Amy Cadieux, was also a defendant in the lawsuit, but Judge Robert J. Shenkin found that the evidence against her insufficient, Archinaco said. Cadieux is still employed by the hospital, according to its website.
Phoenixville Hospital is owned by Community Health Systems, a Tennessee-based company that operates 135 hospitals in 29 states, including 16 in Pennsylvania. A spokeswoman from the company did not return a request for comment Tuesday.
Proffitt said she and her fiance, Joe Ciechoski, were grateful because the award will allow their daughter, who attends school at Arc of Chester County, to continue working with specialists for the rest of her life. Already, the little girl with curly, sandy-brown hair is exceeding her doctors' expectations, Proffitt said.
Proffitt said she can communicate with pictures, pointing to pizza or macaroni and cheese to tell her mother what she wants for dinner. Recently, she spelled her name when her parents laid some letter cards in front of her. And while doctors said she might never be able to walk normally, she has started shuffling forward with the help of a walker, according to her mother.
Proffitt said her daughter will be the flower girl when she and her fiance are married in August.
"This [verdict] definitely helps put her at an advantage because now we can get everything she needs," Proffitt said. "We don't have to come to a point where we have to say, 'We can't do that because we can't afford it.' "