No Settlement in Punitive Portion of Newborn Death Suit
July 27, 1999
Despite a full day of discussions, no settlement agreement on punitive damages was reached Monday between legal counsel for an area hospital system and a Dallas couple who were awarded $6.7 million in compensatory damages last week.
A spokesperson for Attorney Joseph Quinn Jr., who is representing Heidi and Scott Schukraft in a civil action against Wyoming Valley Health Care System and Dr. Mark Polin, said Monday that Quinn had been involved in all-day discussions and hoped to have an answer by today.
Quinn was unavailable for personal contact.
Last Thursday, a jury of nine men and three women determined that the hospital system was 70 percent negligent in the Jan. 9, 1997 death of Scott Schukraft Jr., and that Dr. Polin was 30 percent negligent.
Scott Jr. died on Jan. 9, 1997, moments after he was born in a state of fetal distress. Attorney Quinn argued on behalf of the Schukrafts that the infant would have survived if hospital nurses, or Dr. Polin, had responded to clear signs of fetal distress on a fetal heart rate monitor by stopping the administration of a labor-inducing drug, Pitocin, to Mrs. Schukraft.
It was alleged at trial that during a critical time-period in Mrs. Schukraft's labor, when the baby was exhibiting clear signs of distress, Dr. Polin fell asleep in a doctor's lounge.
Although he admitted his own responsibility, Polin claimed he was never advised by nursing staff of his patient's condition. He said he spontaneously awoke from his unintentional slumber only minutes before the child was born.
One nurse claimed that Polin was not asleep during this time period. Another nurse, who was at Mrs. Schukraft's side, said she relied upon Polin's and her supervisor's interpretations of the fetal heart rate monitor in allowing administration of the Pitocin to continue.
In handing up its decision last week, the jury panel determined that the care provided to Heidi Schukraft and her unborn child went beyond ordinary negligence, and instead constituted reckless indifference. This finding allowed the Schukraft's to seek punitive damages.
But rather than have the jury panel deliberate further on this issue, legal counsel representing all the parties agreed last Thursday to attempt to settle this dispute without a jury.
Quinn had said last week that he hoped to have the issue resolved by Monday. But as of yesterday afternoon, no agreement had been reached.