A jury of seven men and five women unanimously awarded a West Pittston couple a total of $10.3 million Monday night for the loss of their infant daughter.
But the panel, despite hearing more than two weeks of testimony, has not yet completed its task.
Because the jury found that the actions of the former Penn State Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and an area obstetrician on Feb. 21, constituted reckless indifference to the safety and well being of the infant child, the panel will be brought back at a later date to determine if punitive damages are warranted.
Joan and Bill Godlewski, represented by Attorney Joseph Quinn Jr., filed suit in 1998 after their 8-month-old daughter died from injures she sustained during her delivery on Feb. 21.
Joan Godlewski went into the Plains Township hospital that day to deliver twins. Her first child, Jarod, was born normally. However, baby Gina was not born after suffering from about 22 minutes of oxygen deprivation, according to court testimony.
Quinn, through expert testimony, argued that Gina could have been spared from irreparable brain damage. He alleged the baby would be alive today if Dr. George Valenta, who attended to Joan Godlewski, had initially granted Joan’s requests for a Cesarean Section, if he had responded more quickly to the first signs of fetal distress, or if the delivery rooms at the Plains Township hospital had been equipped for Emergency C-sections.
When Dr. Valenta made the call to deliver Gina by C-section about three minutes after the fetal distress was evident, Joan Godlewski had to be transported to an operating room in a different building.
Quinn alleged there were additional delays because the doors to the operating rooms were locked and because the operating room team was not present in the hospital. Quinn alleged the doctor and hospital should have been prepared for the worst by delivering the twins in an operating room equipped for emergency response.
In addition, Quinn alleged Dr. Valenta violated the standard of care by failing to inform Joan Godlewski that baby Gina had changed position prior to birth, from a normal head down to a transverse or sideways position, and that there was an increased likelihood for a C-section.
He further alleged the child’s fetal distress began after Dr. Valenta attempted to rotate the baby inside Joan’s womb – a procedure he alleged should not have been performed in a delivery room not equipped for emergency response.
The jury found that Dr. Valenta was negligent and that his negligence was a substantial factor in causing Gina Godlewski’s injuries.
The jury found that Dr. Robert Roe, who was chairman of the hospital’s OB/GYN department, was negligent but that his negligence wasn’t a substantial factor in causing the injuries.
The jury found that the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center and the Geisinger Clinic were negligent and that their negligence was a substantial factor in causing Gina’s injuries.
The jury assigned 60 percent of the combined total negligence to Dr. Valenta, 0 percent of the negligence to Dr. Roe, 20 percent of the negligence to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center, and 20 percent of the negligence to Geisinger Clinic.
The panel also found that the conduct of the hospital, through its employees Dr. Valenta and/or Dr. Roe, and the conduct of the clinic through its employees, constituted reckless indifference, a finding that opened up the door to punitive damages.
The Godlewski family was awarded a total of $2,884,000 under the wrongful death action, which included. $2.5 million for the past, present and future loss of Gina Godlewski’s aid, society and comfort. The wrongful death award also included $384,000 for funeral and medical expenses.
The family also was awarded $1.5 million for the loss of Gina’s potential earnings capacity and $2 million for the pain and suffering the young child endured.
Bill Godlewski was awarded a total of $1.5 million for past present and future emotional distress.
Joan Godlewski was awarded a total of $2 million for her emotional distress.
Since the case is still ongoing, Quinn and the Godlewski’s said they had to decline comment after Monday’s verdict.
In a prepared statement, officials from Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center said, “We continue to believe the care provided in this case by Doctor George Valenta, Dr. Robert Roe and the staff at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center was appropriate.
“We respectfully disagree with the jury’s verdict.”
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Godlewski family on the loss of their baby. Our doctors, nurses and other health care professionals not only in obstetrics, but throughout the medical center, are saddened by the loss of any patient. This is especially true in the loss of a child.”
Neither Dr. Valenta nor the hospital’s lead defense attorney was present when the jury announced its verdict.
Citizens’ Voice – Wilkes-Barre, PA
By Tim Gulla