Heart Injury at Birth Compensation Awarded in LA Court

A woman, who was the victim of negligent heart surgery when she was one day old, has been awarded one million dollars in heart injury at birth compensation by a court in Pasadena, Los Angeles – more than thirty years after her injury occurred.  

The unnamed female underwent corrective heart surgery to repair the septal wall between the two sides of her heart shortly after she was born in May 1979 at the Huntingdon Hospital in Pasadena. However, during the operation, the vena cava artery – the artery which carries de-oxygenised blood to the heart – was attached to the wrong side of the septal wall and, as a consequence of this mistake, the flow of blood was directed into the heart´s left atrium instead of the right atrium. As a result the girl suffered from generalised hypoxia, physical disability and other health problems as she grew up.

Despite frequents post-operative checks by her surgeon – Dr. Alan Gazzaniga of Pasadena – and other medical experts the cause of the girl´s condition was never identified until 2007. Shortly before the woman´s thirtieth birthday in April 2009, she underwent corrective surgery at USC Hospital in Pasadena. The operating surgeon on this occasion described Dr. Gazzaniga´s surgery as “baffling” and “incorrect” and attributed the woman´s “crippling oxygen deprivation and resulting disabilities accompanied with her oxygen starved condition and overall ill health” directly to the negligence of her original surgeon.

After seeking legal advice, the woman made a claim for heart injury at birth compensation against Dr. Gazzaniga. The woman´s legal representatives argued that, although the injury had been sustained more than thirty years ago, the discovery of the cause for the physical condition had happened within the Statute of Limitations. When this argument was opposed by defending counsel, it was contended that it was a reasonable assumption that Dr. Alan Gazzaniga had met the required standard of care at the time of the original operation, and the claimant could not be expected to have known that her heart condition was the result of alleged medical negligence by her surgeon as she was growing up.

This argument was accepted by the judge, and the case proceeded to court. The woman´s legal team prepared a substantial team of expert witnesses, including three cardiothoracic surgeons, who demonstrated how the heart injury was sustained and what the effects had been. After three weeks of litigation, the jury at the Los Angeles County Superior Court found in the woman´s favour and awarded her one million dollars in heart injury at birth compensation.