Settlement Reached on Punitive Damages
The Citizens' Voice - Wilkes-Barre, PA
Aug. 11, 1999
By Tim Gulla
An out-of-court settlement on a Dallas couple's request for punitive damages from an area hospital system and obstetrician was reached Tuesday afternoon in Luzerne County Court.
Attorneys representing Wyoming Valley Health Care System, Dr. Mark Polin, and the Schukraft Family met privately Tuesday with Special Trial Master Joseph Musto. Following several hours of talks, Attorney Joseph Quinn, who represented the Schukraft family, confirmed that a settlement has been reached.
"The case is now settled. The case is resolved," he said.
He was unable to divulge any additional information, however, since confidentiality was part of the agreement.
Quinn could only say: "I'm very pleased with the resolution of the case. I'm very pleased, and my clients are very pleased."
WVHCS provided a similar limited comment last night, saying, "A settlement has been reached for an undisclosed amount. All parties have agreed to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. Any speculation or news reports regarding any facilities or departments closing or any interruption of services are completely erroneous."
On July 22, a jury awarded Heidi and Scott Schukraft $6.7 million in compensatory damages for the Jan. 9, 1997, death of their infant son, Scott Jr. In handing up its decision, the jury determined that the hospital system was 70-percent negligent in the infant's death and that Dr. Polin was 30-percent negligent.
The panel further determined that the care provided to Mrs. Schukraft and her unborn child went beyond ordinary negligence, and instead constituted reckless indifference. This finding allowed the Schukrafts to seek punitive damages, which are meant to punish.
But rather than have the same jury deliberate any further, all parties involved in the case agreed to enter out-of-court discussions to resolve the issue.
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 trail 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.
Attorney Patrick Carey represented Wyoming Valley Health Care System in the dispute. Attorney Daniel Ryan represented Polin.