BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A couple was awarded $16 million by a Jefferson County jury against Brookwood Medical Center.
Caroline and J.T. Malatesta sued for medical negligence and reckless fraud over the hospital's natural birth advertising campaign.
The couple's lawyer, Rip Andrews of Marsh Rickard Bryan, says Caroline is the bravest person he knows.
"She's also the last person you would ever expect to be a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. Her dad is a doctor; she grew up idolizing her dad. She never thought she would be involved in a case like this," Andrews said.
According to the lawsuit, Caroline became pregnant with her fourth child in June 2011. Though she had given birth to her three older children at St. Vincent's, her desire for a natural birth, including water birth, attracted her to Brookwood.
During labor, Caroline says she was restrained, forced to lay on her back, rather than rest on her hands and knees. A nurse applied pressure to the baby's head to delay delivery, the complaint states.
Caroline sustained nerve damage and has been diagnosed with Pudendal Neuralgia.
"It is catastrophic. It's debilitating. It's also very difficult to deal with emotionally because it is silent pain," explained Andrews. "If you see someone at the grocery store, if you smile for a family photo, people can't see that you're in pain. Sometimes they don't believe you're in pain. That's one of the hardest things to deal with. And it is a constant pain that she deals with."
The jury awarded $10 million in compensatory damages, $5 million in punitive damages and another $1 million in punitive damages.
"If there's one institution that needs to tell the truth more than others, it's hospitals," Andrews said. "When they are advertising to any vulnerable population, which anybody looking for a hospital really is, they're sick or they have some medical need, they need to tell the truth."
"We are disappointed in the outcome of the case," said Kate Darden, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the hospital, in a statement. "Brookwood Baptist Medical Center strives for excellence in patient care and satisfaction, and we respectfully disagree with the jury's verdict."
The verdict was announced at 9:52 p.m. Friday, says Andrews.
A photo shared by Andrews shows the couple bracing him in the courtroom that night, an emotional end to the case filed nearly two and a half years ago.