By Emily Fitzgerald / firstname.lastname@example.org
An 8-year-old Centralia boy who suffered a nerve injury during birth has won a $1.08 million lawsuit against the now-deceased midwife who delivered him in 2014.
A Lewis County jury ruled Tuesday that Laura Hamilton was negligent in caring for Seng Hamilton and her son, Zachary, who suffered a brachial plexus injury during birth that resulted in permanent nerve damage and paralysis in one arm.
Hamilton was the subject of several lawsuits and state Department of Health actions during her 36-year career in Washington due to complaints of malpractice. She surrendered her license due to medical reasons in February 2020, citing two strokes she suffered in late 2019, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
Hamilton, who lived most of her adult life in Onalaska and Chehalis, died in April 2020 at the age of 62.
Seng and Scott Hamilton first filed a malpractice lawsuit against Laura Hamilton, a distant relative of Scott’s, in May 2017, according to previous Chronicle reporting. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2019 without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled in the same court of law.
The lawsuit that the jury decided this week was filed against Laura Hamilton’s estate in August 2020. While Zachary Hamilton was the plaintiff, his father, Scott Hamilton, served as Zachary’s guardian ad litem for the duration of the case.
Laura Hamilton was accused of using excessive force after Zachary’s shoulder became stuck during the home birth. She allegedly “pulled and twisted (Zachary)’s head and neck in an attempt to deliver him,” which the plaintiff’s attorney argued tore muscles in Zachary’s neck and caused permanent injury to the brachial plexus nerves in his right shoulder and two major nerves in his right arm.
That injury caused “permanent paralysis and dysfunction in his arm and shoulder,” according to court documents.
Laura Hamilton was additionally accused of multiple acts of negligence, including failing to properly assess Zachary’s size and weight, while providing prenatal care for Seng Hamilton.
Laura Hamilton’s estate contended that she “properly managed the pregnancy and birth in accordance with the applicable standard of care,” according to court documents. Zachary’s injuries, her estate argued, “occurred from the natural forces of labor stretching (Zachary)’s neck and shoulder against the bones of his mother’s pelvis.” Her estate additionally argued that she “saved (Zachary)’s brain and life” by resuscitating him before paramedics arrived.
A 12-person jury ruled in Zachary’s favor Tuesday after a two-week trial in Lewis County Superior Court. The jury deliberated for four and a half hours on Friday before they recessed for the weekend, resuming deliberations Tuesday morning and delivering their verdict just after 1:45 p.m. that day.
The jury awarded Zachary Hamilton $579,932.24 in economic damages and $500,000 in non-economic damages, for a total of $1,079,932.24.
As the named defendant in the lawsuit, Laura Hamilton’s estate is responsible for paying the damages.
“On Tuesday, a Lewis County jury confirmed what Seng and Scott Hamilton knew all along — that the defendant failed their family almost as soon as they walked into her office back in 2014. This verdict provides the family with both justice and closure,” said Austin Neff, one of the Osborn Machler, PLLC attorneys representing Zachary and his family.
Back in 2015, a different Lewis County jury ruled in Laura Hamilton’s favor in a similar malpractice lawsuit involving a baby who suffered a brachial plexus injury during birth in 2010.
The state Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s verdict in that case in August 2017.
The state Department of Health briefly suspended Laura Hamilton’s license in September 2018 after the department revealed “evidence of immediate danger to the public’s health and safety” in regards to her practice, according to previous Chronicle reporting. Specifically, the Department of Health cited evidence that Laura Hamilton had possession of certain emergency equipment that wasn’t readily available for use in case of an emergency and that she provided service to a family member who suffered from a drug addiction without giving regard to rules of “consultation, referral, transfer of care, emergency transfer and transportation,” according to previous Chronicle reporting.
The Department of Health reinstated her midwifery credential in October 2018 with orders that she have emergency equipment set up for instant use, not provide midwifery services to anyone suffering from drug abuse and not provide midwifery services to any family member.
Laura Hamilton surrendered her license a little over a year later out of a belief she was “no longer able to practice midwifery with reasonable skill and safety” due to her recent strokes, according to previous Chronicle reporting. By surrendering her license, she was prohibited from reapplying for a future credential in Washington or practicing on a volunteer or emergency basis.
Laura Hamilton died several months later at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.
Over the course of her 36-year career as a licensed midwife, she delivered 4,000 babies in Lewis and neighboring counties, according to her obituary.