Michigan jury awards family $120 million in malpractice case

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published July 2, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • K’Jon Drake experienced brain injuries after nurses allegedly performed a delayed C-section on his mother.

  • A jury awarded his family $120 million for past medical expenses and future damages.

Kirsten Drake filed suit against Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System after her son, K’Jon, experienced birth injuries during his delivery at Henry Ford in 2010.[]

K’Jon was born via cesarean section. The lawsuit alleges the C-section should have been preformed more quickly. K’Jon experienced oxygen deprivation during his birth and now has cerebral palsy. The now 13-year-old needs round-the-clock care from his mother and healthcare workers. In March 2024, a Wayne County, MI, jury agreed that Henry Ford was responsible for K’Jon’s injuries and awarded the Drake family $120 million.

Kirsten Drake was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital in June 2010. The expectant mother was 20 years old and had reached full term. She was not yet experiencing any signs of labor when she was admitted,  but a fetal monitor detected “non-reassuring fetal heart tones,” prompting calls for a C-section. 

According to records, Drake’s C-section was delayed more than two hours. As a result, K’Jon experienced asphyxiation.[] He weighed 3.095 kilograms at birth and required resuscitation after delivery. He was immediately transferred to the NICU for further care. The lawsuit alleges that the delay and asphyxiation are directly responsible for K’Jon’s brain damage and cerebral palsy. 

Today, K’Jon requires assistance with all activities of daily living. In addition to cerebral palsy, K’Jon is diagnosed with global developmental delay, cortical visual impairments, and a seizure disorder. He is dependent on a gastro-jejunostomy (GJ) tube. 

The majority of K’Jon’s care is provided by his mother and grandmother. The State of Michigan pays K’Jon’s grandmother a stipend to act as a caregiver. According to court documents, K’Jon has a predicted life expectancy of just over 51 years. 

Going to trial

Drake sued Henry Ford Health System in 2020.[] The lawsuit also names attending obstetrician Leila Hajjar-Nolan, MD.[] The complaint alleges that practitioners at Henry Ford had displayed “negligent failure to provide appropriate obstetrical care resulting in severe cerebral palsy and severe developmental delay.” 

The statute of limitations for most medical malpractice cases in Michigan is typically 2 years.[] However, an exception is made for cases involving injuries at birth. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is an intervening plaintiff in the lawsuit. According to one of Drake’s attorneys, Brian McKeen, the state joined the case because it has already spent large amounts of money on K’Jon’s care.  

In a statement, McKeen said, “This child will need medical and home care for the rest of his life, and while we cannot give him the quality of life he would have had but for this injury, we can only hope to give his additional therapies and services to help him deal with his disabilities and protect from the possibility of an early demise."

The case went to trial on March 4, 2024. During testimony, expert witnesses for the Drake family told the jury that K’Jon will require 24/7 care for the rest of his life. They also testified that Henry Ford staff’s failure to act promptly was a breach of the standards of care.[] After 3 weeks of testimony, the jury found Henry Ford Health System liable for K’Jon’s injuries. 

The verdict

The jury found that Dr. Hajjar-Nolan and four nurses who were on shift during Drake’s C-section were liable for K’Jon’s injury.[] The jury’s final award of $120 million includes just over $500,000 in damages for previous medical expenses, with just under $250,000 paid by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Additional damages were assessed for the cost of future care, losses for future pain and suffering, and losses for each year of potential income beginning in 2028, when K’Jon will turn 18. 

Henry Ford Health System has said that it plans to appeal the verdict. A statement from the healthcare system reads, in part, “At Henry Ford Health, our patients are family, and we’ve been deeply saddened for the Drake family since the birth of their son more than a decade ago. At the same time, we do not believe the verdict is consistent with the facts of this case and plan to vigorously appeal the jury’s verdict.”[]

McKeen was satisfied with the verdict, stating, “This injury should have never happened. It was foreseeable and entirely preventable. We hope this verdict serves as a reminder to the obstetrical community that they should act expediently in the presence of non-reassuring fetal monitor patterns.”

What this means for you

Malpractice awards topping more than $1 million are becoming more common. Over the past few years, verdicts in the tens and even hundreds of millions have been popping up nationwide. Some states set damage caps on malpractice awards, thereby preventing these large amounts, but states without caps have seen a rise in cases with massive awards. 

The benefits of damage caps are up for debate, and state legislatures across the country are planning to discuss them before the end of the year. Keeping an eye on changes to these laws—and any changes to norms in verdicts in your state—can be a good idea. Even if you don’t find yourself involved in a malpractice case, changes to malpractice case regulations or award standards can affect you. You could, for instance, see an increase in the price of your malpractice insurance premiums.

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