By CHIP GUY
Sussex Bureau reporter
A Sussex County Superior Court jury has awarded a former Millsboro woman $6.5 million, agreeing with her claims that an emergency-room doctor and nurse practitioner erred in 2000 when they released her toddler from the hospital. The child stopped breathing the next day, and died four days later.
Analy Ventura, now of Reading, Pa., actually will receive much less than the jury awarded. The jury's award - $700,000 for the child's pain and suffering, and $5.9 million for Ventura's mental anguish - was capped at $750,000 by an agreement between her lawyer, Eric Doroshow, and the defendants' insurer.
Ventura also will pay less than a third of the award in legal fees, Doroshow said.
Ventura sued Beebe Medical Center, Sussex Emergency Associates, Dr. Douglas Allen Jr. and nurse practitioner Betty Brittingham in late 2000. Sussex Emergency Associates is a group of physicians contracted to provide emergency-room services at Beebe. Beebe was dropped as a defendant before the trial began April 21.
Doroshow contended that the medical staff should have kept Ventura's 14-month-old daughter, Angi Ventura-Landeverde, in the hospital overnight after she was taken to the emergency room Feb. 18, 2000.
The child's parents took her to the emergency room that evening because she had been vomiting and suffering from dehydration for three days.
The medical staff gave the child fluids during the visit, which lasted about 90 minutes, then discharged the child.
"Our doctors said for an infant this young, you don't release a baby," Doroshow said after Wednesday's verdict.
The defense, however, argued that there was nothing that could have been done by the staff to prevent the child's death.
In court documents, defense attorney Mason Turner wrote that "admission of the child would have made no difference in the outcome." He pointed out that the staff discharged her with an antibiotic and instructions to Ventura to bring her back if her condition worsened.
Defense lawyers also introduced evidence at trial that the woman had taken the child to a clinic the day before the emergency room visit.
Clinic staff treated the child and also sent her home with her parents, court records showed.
The results of an autopsy presented by Turner as evidence concluded that the child died of multiple organ failures, or shock.
Officials at Beebe Medical Center said they stand behind Sussex Emergency Associates and the staff.
Dr. Allen and Turner were not available for comment this week.
The so-called "high-low" agreement with the defendants' insurer guaranteed a minimum payment of $75,000 to the mother, even if the jury rejected her claim, and prohibited either side from appealing the verdict.