From Health Reporter Carol M. Ostrom
A King County Superior Court judge awarded $15.2 million Friday morning to the family of an 8-year-old girl who suffered devastating brain injuries in 2008 after a communication breakdown between University of Washington doctors at Seattle Children’s led to a medication mistake.
The award, against the UW, is one of the largest medical malpractice awards in state history, said lawyers for the Luvera Law firm, who filed the suit in 2011 on behalf of MacKenzie Briant’s parents, Elaine and John Briant of Snoqualmie.
The injuries left MacKenzie, who had successfully battled through a heart transplant as an infant, unable to talk, walk or swallow, and needing around-the-clock nursing care for the rest of her life, doctors said.
The UW and Seattle Children’s argued that while the doctors had made a mistake during a phone call – the girl’s transplant cardiologist had warned against using the over-the-counter nasal spray, but the other doctor misunderstood and recommended it — her injuries were not the result of the nasal spray.
After a three-week trial, Judge John Erlick concluded the spray had caused the injuries, and the two doctors and Seattle Children’s had violated their duties to their patient.
The University of Washington issued a statement expressing sadness over the girl’s impairment. At the same time, the statement said, “We believe that the use of Afrin, a commonly used over-the-counter cold remedy, did not lead to Mackenzie’s [cardiac] arrest; however the judge on this case ruled in favor of the plaintiff and her family.”
The case highlights “the critical need for all practitioners to use techniques to ‘close the loop’ on communications in the healthcare setting,” the UW said, adding that it does not plan to appeal.
In the courtroom, as the judge announced the award, Elaine Briant began to cry quietly.
“I wish MacKenzie would be the way she was before,” she said in the hallway afterward. “But now we will have the funds to take care of her, which is so important.”