A federal judge in Seattle has awarded $10 million to the family of a severely disabled child who was born after a community clinic nurse inadvertently gave the mother a flu shot instead of a birth-control injection.
The Seattle Times reported that U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik last week awarded the child $7.5 million for her medical, educational and other expenses, on top of $2.5 million in damages for her parents.
After a trial earlier this year, Lasnik found that the mother, Yeseni Pacheco, did not want to become pregnant and would not have become pregnant in 2011 if the nurse at the Neighborcare Health clinic had given her the correct shot.
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The federal government is responsible for the damages because the clinic, which serves low-income and uninsured patients, is federally funded.
The family's lawyers, Mike Maxwell and Steve Alvarez, described the case in court documents as a “wrongful pregnancy” and “wrongful life” case. They said the case was a hard-fought battle and sharply criticized the government for refusing to accept responsibility at the outset.
“Luis and Yesenia Pacheco are pleased that they’re closer to receiving the funds needed for their daughter’s extraordinary medical care and training,” they wrote in a statement. "It was a long hard road for the family.”
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, which defended the lawsuit, said some of the delays were necessary to ensure medical experts could accurately measure the extent of the child’s disabilities.
Pacheco, an El Salvadoran refugee who moved to the U.S. when she was 16, had gone to the clinic for a quarterly injection of Depo-Provera, a hormone used for birth control.
A nurse at the clinic who had been administering walk-in flu shots all day apparently did not check Pacheco’s chart and gave Pacheco the flu vaccine instead, the court found.
Pacheco didn’t discover the mistake until she called to make her next appointment, more than two months later. By then, she was pregnant.
The child is now 8 years old and in third grade at an Everett-area school, north of Seattle.
According to court documents, she suffers from a birth defect known as bilateral perisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG), which has resulted in cognitive delays, slowed speech and language skills, epilepsy, vision problems and other complications.
She has an IQ of 70, according to the family’s attorneys. Maxwell said that she will live a normal life span, and will require some level of care and assistance for her entire life.
Justice Department lawyers are asking that some of the awards be placed in a “reversionary trust” that would return to the government if the girl does not need it.