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Personal Injury Verdicts & Awards

Schukrafts get $6.7 million

The Times Leader - Wilkes-Barre, PA
July 23, 1999

Now, both sides of the case involving an infant's death will negotiate punitive damages. If no settlement is reached, the jury will make the decision.

By Terrie Morgan-Besecker
staff writer

WILKES-BARRE - A Dallas couple on Thursday was awarded $6.7 million for the death of their infant son, but the total could be much greater when punitive damages against a doctor and hospital are determined next week.

A jury found the care given by Dr. Mark Polin and several nurses at Nesbitt Memorial Hospital was so poor that it constituted a "reckless disregard" for the infant's life, opening the door for much steeper damages, said Joseph Quinn, attorney for Heidi and Scott Schukraft.

The Schukrafts were awarded $5 million for emotional distress and $1.7 million in compensatory damages.

"We're thrilled with this, but this case is still open," Quinn said moments after the verdict was rendered in Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas.

Quinn said he is negotiating a settlement of the punitive damages, but he is prepared to return to court early next week if talks break down. The damages would then be determined by a jury.

The verdict ended an often dramatic two-week trial in which Polin and nurses were intensely criticized for failing to act after a heart monitor showed infant Scott Schukraft Jr., was in trouble in the womb. The newborn died from oxygen deprivation shortly after birth on Jan. 9, 1997.

"What made this case so outrageous is there were so many opportunities over so much time," Quinn said in his closing argument. "This is not ordinary negligence. This is unbelievable conduct."

Polin and his attorney, Daniel Ryan, declined comment after the trial. Patrick Carey, attorney for the Wyoming Valley Health Care System, also declined comment In a prepared statement released late Thursday night, Jim Roberts, spokesman for the healthcare system, offered "heartfelt apologies and regrets" to the Schukrafts.

"From the onset of this trial we acknowledged that caregivers made profound mistakes in judgement ... We hope that our acknowledgment of responsibility will, at least, provide the Schukrafts with some sense of relief."

Polin admitted at trial that he fell asleep in a physician's lounge and failed to monitor Heidi Schukraft during a critical stage of labor. But he said the blame was shared by nurses, who he claimed failed to advise him of the troubling heart tracings. The nurses also failed to stop administration of a labor reducing drug known to intensify fetal distress.

Jurors deliberated for two hours before deciding the nurses carried the bulk of blame for the death. The panel found the nurses 70 percent responsible. Polin was found 30 percent responsible.

"We're thrilled with the verdict, but there's no winner here," a somber Heidi Schukraft said as she left the courtroom.

Schukraft said she and her husband agonized about filing the suit, but felt it was necessary to get the full story of what happened to their son.

"It wasn't easy bringing this to trial, but I think we did the right thing," she said. "I don't think we're going to look back and have regrets and say, if only we would have pursued this, if only we would know what really happened. That's why we did pursue this, to find out what happened."

The Schukrafts spoke with Polin for several minutes after the verdict. Heidi Schukraft declined to detail the conversation. Asked if she could ever forgive Polin and the nurses, she said yes.

"I think when something happens, people need to be accountable for what has happened. I think this allowed people to be accountable for their actions. That's what we needed to do."

Quinn said there was a settlement offer before the trial. It was rejected, in part, because the Schukrafts wanted the actions of Polin and the healthcare system to become public.

"Unfortunately some cases are settled and the public never ever hears the story. In this case I think it was important for them to hear the story and understand what goes on behind closed doors," Quinn said. "It was a story that was shocking to all of us when we heard it in its entirety."

Quinn said all defendants are equally responsible for the monetary damages. Typically, insurance companies would battle over who pays what percentage, but that isn't an issue here because the same insurer covers all defendants.

During closing arguments, Quinn pleaded with jurors to award "full justice" to the Schukrafts.

"You cannot and will not count high enough to do the justice required and bring back the kind of award this sordid story demands," Quinn said.

Patrick Carey, attorney for the healthcare system, conceded hospital nurses were negligent, but argued the bulk of the blame rested with Polin.

Carey accused Polin of trying to paint himself as the "good guy" ho was being made a scapegoat by hospital officials.

"I'm the Teflon doctor. Don't let this stick to me," Carey said in his closing statement, paraphrasing the agreement he believed Polin has made. "Dr. Polin fooled the nurses. He fooled the Schukrafts. Don't let him fool you."

Carey repeatedly attacked Polin during the trial, at times appearing more like an attorney for the plaintiff than a defendant.

The point was not lost on Quinn, who claimed the actions were part of a legal strategy designed to deflect blame from the healthcare system.

"What happened is, in a desperate act to avoid responsibility, this hospital abandoned this doctor," Quinn told jurors. "His conduct was so bad here, let's treat him like a leper. Let's walk away all in an attempt to save ourselves."

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

About Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, PC

Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn is considered one of the top civil litigation and commercial law firms that has had the privilege of representing more families in the courtroom than any other NEPA firm. The attorneys at HKQ Law have been honored as Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Best Law Firms by US News and World Reports, and have received the AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbel. HKQ Law was recently recognized for one of the top 20 Verdicts in Pennsylvania.

The firm’s Personal Injury Team, led by Attorney Joe Quinn, Jr., has won some of the largest verdicts and settlements in the region's history, totaling over a half billion dollars on behalf of injured clients. 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, Jr. 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. In addition, Best Lawyers, in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report, has designated HKQ a Tier 1 Best Law Firm for personal injury and medical malpractice litigation in 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 www.HKQLaw.com or by calling (800) 760-1529.

				

 

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