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Personal Injury Verdicts & Awards

Lawyer: Baby Died Because of Doctors

The Times Leader - Wilkes-Barre, PA

Lawyer: Baby Died Because of Doctors

Joan and William Godlewski's attorney will say locked doors and miscommunication caused death of their infant daughter.

By Jerry Lynott

WILKES-BARRE - Locked operating room doors, hospital records that were allegedly falsified and a risky procedure to position one twin for birth are the key points in a medical malpractice trial that began Monday in the death of the infant.

Joan and William Godlewski of West Pittston are suing Dr. George Valenta, Dr. Robert Roe and Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township for the death of their daughter, Gina.

The infant suffered irreversible brain damage and died eight months after Valenta delivered her by emergency Caesarean-section at the medical center on Feb.21, 1998.

Joseph Quinn, the Godlewski's' attorney, alleges the brain damage occurred because Valenta waited 11 minutes after realizing the infant was in distress to order the C-section. When they got to the operating room it was locked, causing an additional delay until the keys could be found.

Valenta and Roe are also faulted for not following the mother's request for a C-section delivery from the outset. Had they done so, the death would not have occurred, Quinn told jurors in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. "We will prove to you that this tragedy was totally, totally avoidable," Quinn said at the start of the trial, expected to last three to four weeks.

Medical experts from across the country, Valenta and the Godlewski's are expected to testify about the procedures performed the morning of the births and the months leading up to the delivery of Gina and her brother, Jarod.

"This terrible result was not the result of terrible medicine. This terrible outcome was not the result of terrible medicine," countered lead defense counsel Allan Starr of Philadelphia.

Valenta did not act recklessly or negligently, Starr said. To this day, Valenta does not believe "there was a medical reason" to follow through with Godlewski's initial request for a C-section.

But Starr acknowledged there could have been better communication between hospital staff the morning of the delivery. "Things happened along the trail that I'm not going to try to justify."

The Godlewski's arrived at the hospital at about 4:30a.m. after Joan began having contractions. She was several weeks premature. At 10:07 a.m. Jarod was born vaginally, but Gina was not in position to move through the birth canal, Starr said.

Starr said Valenta believed Gina would get into position on her own, but a machine indicated there was a drop in heartbeat, and the doctor was not sure whether it was the baby's or the mother's. To get an accurate reading, Valenta placed a monitor on the baby's head inside the womb.

The monitor showed it was the child's heartbeat, and Valenta inserted his hand in the womb and "spent an agonizing few minutes trying to reach the (baby's) feet" to position her for delivery. The doctor then called for a C-section and Godlewski was transported to a nearby operating room, he said. "They got there, the doors were locked," Starr said.

The locks had been changed a few days earlier and they had to wait 30 to 60 seconds for someone to find a key. "It's something I wish hadn't happened that way."

Valenta delivered Gina within five minutes at 10:43 a.m., Starr said. By then, the baby had been deprived of needed oxygen and suffered irreversible brain damage, Quinn said.

Quinn said Valenta should have acted more quickly after he noticed the fetal distress. He also noted the hospital's birthing rooms were not equipped to handle C-sections.

"Our experts will tell you that he was in a position where he never should have been."

Godlewski, who had become pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, was anxious about her delivery because of her age - 37 at the time - and the difficulty with her firstborn son. Recent surgery for hemorrhoids also would make it difficult to deliver vaginally, Quinn said.

When Godlewski relayed her concerns to a Geisinger physician who had been checking her pregnancy, he agreed a C-section would be best. But after speaking with Dr. Roe, the physician later told her it could not be done.

"We decide these things by committee," Roe told the physician, Quinn said.

The decision against the C-section was in violation of the hospital's policy that Godlewski has a right as a patient to determine what kind of care she wants, the attorney said.

Quinn said there is also evidence records were falsified. Some hospital records place certain operating room personnel in areas they were not actually in, he said. For instance, a record kept by a nurse in the birthing room disagrees with an operating-room report in terms of times and personnel.

An hour after Gina was delivered, she suffered a seizure. She was flown by helicopter to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville where she remained in the neonatal intensive care unit, Quinn said. Stimulation caused the infant to go into seizures, and the parents could not even pick her up.

To this day, no one from the hospital has offered Joan an explanation for her daughter's injuries. At the hospital, Quinn said, Valenta told her, "We'll never know what happened to your baby."

Testimony will resume at 9:30 a.m. today before Judge Mark Ciarvarella.

PLEASE NOTE: Every case is fact specific, and these results do not guaranty the same results will be obtained in a different case.

About HKQ Law

HKQ Law is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Nine attorneys at HKQ Law were recently named to the 2019 Best Lawyers List and has been designated a Tier 1 Best Law Firm for personal injury, medical malpractice litigation labor law and corporate law in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history on behalf of injured clients. The firm was also recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The Personal Injury Team focuses on a wide array of personal injury claims and civil litigation, including medical malpractice, auto and truck accidents, aviation accidents, unsafe vehicles, dangerous or defective products, workplace injuries (worker's compensation), construction site accidents, claim denials by insurance companies, dangerous drugs, defective children's products, nursing home abuse and neglect, and falls due to unsafe conditions (slip and fall).

Attorney Joseph A. Quinn is one of only 100 attorneys in the United States (and one of only three in Pennsylvania) honored with membership in the Inner Circle of Trial Advocates, and one of only 500 attorneys worldwide chosen to be a Fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He has been a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer every year since the program began and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America every year since the publication was established in 1987. Best Lawyers also named him top personal injury attorney for Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Since the inception of the firm, the Commercial / Corporate Team led by Attorney Allan Kluger has provided comprehensive, integrated legal services to many of Northeastern and Eastern Pennsylvania's largest corporations, businesses, banks, non-profits and institutions, handling matters involving labor and employment, wills, trusts and estate planning, estate administration, elder law, commercial transactions, residential and commercial real estate, zoning, land use and development, telecommunications, mediations and arbitrations, commercial litigation, title insurance, business planning and business succession, corporate/business structuring, employment discrimination law for employers, banking, creditor’s rights, finance, lender liability defense, covenants not to compete, construction law, mergers and acquisitions and other business matters.

Additional information can be found at or by calling (800) 760-1529.



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