Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

May 1, 2013

Jury awards $6 million in infant’s death

By Kenneth Hart - CNHI News Service
Journal-Times

May 1, 2013 — A Boyd Circuit Court jury awarded more than $6 million to a Carter County couple in a malpractice case stemming from their infant son’s death in the King’s Daughters Medical Center emergency room in early 2010.

The jury found that Dr. John P. Short and his employer, Ashland Emergency Medical Associates, which contracts with KDMC to provide emergency department services, were liable in the death of two-month-old Derrick Donovan Willis.

The panel awarded $6.2 million to the youngster’s parents, Derrick and Shara Willis, of Grayson. The verdict came after a 15-day jury trial in Judge C. David Hagerman’s court.

According to the Willis’ lead attorney, Sandra Spurgeon of Lexington, the jury found the Willis’ infant son died of suffocation as a direct result of being improperly intubated by Short. Jurors determined Short had failed to perform his duties in the manner a reasonably competent physician would and ordered him to pay the Willises $3 million.

The jury also ordered AMEA to pay $3.2 million to the couple for being negligent in its supervision of Short, Spurgeon said.

According to Spurgeon, the Willises took their son to the KDMC emergency room on Jan. 26, 2010. The child presented with symptoms of bronchiolitis, an illness of the respiratory tract that commonly affects newborns and infants. It is caused by an infection that affects the tiny airways, known as the bronchioles, that lead to the lungs. As those airways become inflamed, they swell and fill with mucus, making breathing difficult.

Short performed a tracheal intubation, inserting a tube down the child’s windpipe to maintain an open airway, but the jury found he did so incorrectly and it compromised the youngster’s ability to breathe, causing him to suffocate, Spurgeon said.

Short left the room immediately after performing the procedure, she said.

Spurgeon said the Willises had been “tormented” because even though they knew their son died of suffocation, they never received an explanation as to how it happened.

“The family is just very relieved and thankful,” she said. “This was a very tragic loss for the Willises.”

Derrick Willis is a former Boyd County commonwealth’s attorney. He currently holds the same position in the 37th Judicial District, which is comprised of Carter, Morgan and Elliott counties.

KDMC spokesman Tom Dearing said the hospital had no comment on the verdict.