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Marla Dixon

Judge awards $33.8 million in malpractice suit after doctor’s phone call leads to baby’s permanent brain damage

A federal judge granted a $33.8 million malpractice judgment after a Miami-based obstetrician’s gross negligence resulted in a baby’s permanent brain damage.

According to The Miami Herald, Ata Atogho failed to perform a Cesarean section, instructed nurses to re-administer a drug intended to strengthen contractions, and left the young mom’s room for long periods—at one point to take an eight-minute call from his stockbroker.

Marla Dixon’s pregnancy wasn’t considered high risk by any means, and lawyers successfully argued that the Atogho’s actions—or lack thereof—led to the baby’s brain being deprived of blood and oxygen.

“At the anticipated, joyful moment of birth of a crying, bouncing baby, they are instead presented with the dreadful specter of a blue, floppy, lifeless child,” Judge Robert Scola wrote in his April 17 order.

Specifically, Judge Scola awarded the baby’s parents, Dixon and Earl Reese-Thorton, $3.3 million in addition to $1.1 million for pain and suffering, $21.7 in economic damages, and $7.6 million for the boy’s pain and suffering, according to Legal Info.

The defense and plaintiffs agreed that the infant, named Earl Jr., wouldn’t have experienced serious brain damage if Atogho had carried out a C-section. But not only did the doctor blame Dixon for not pushing hard enough but a nurse testified that he falsified the 19-year-old’s medical record to make it appear that she had refused a C-section, The Herald reported.

The nurse, who was present throughout the entire birth, claimed that Dixon begged, “Cut me. I want to be cut. I can’t do this anymore.”

“Not one time did he apologize,” Dixon said told the paper.

“He didn’t care. He kept going on with his lies. He blamed me.”

Martin Gubernick, an obstetrician with New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical, testified that the baby’s distressing December 2013 birth could’ve been caused by dehydration, the lengthy labor or the obstetrician’s decision to use Pitocin to induce contractions. Gubernick also pointed out that blood supply to the baby decreases every time the uterus contracts. Atogho administered the drug at full strength for more than an hour after he began treating Dixon.
Atogho, who was represented by lawyers for the US Attorney’s Office because he worked for the federally-funded Jessie Trice Community Health Center, has had no disciplinary action taken against his Florida medical license for the incident. The obstetrician also isn’t personally liable for the judgment, the Associated Press pointed out.
Alarmingly, this isn’t the first suit against the Miami doctor, as lawsuits obtained by The Herald indicated that Atogho delivered two other babies with permanent brain damage in 2013—and a third who was disabled for life. Like Dixon, the three moms were young and treated at the hospital which serves many low-income and uninsured residents in the community.
“The Government underestimates the value of the loss of the simple pleasures of life of a parent and his or her child: having the baby recognize you and smile at you, reading a book at bedtime, holding hands with your toddler as you walk on the beach, receiving a hug from your child after a day of work, teaching your child to read, throwing a football together, going to the movies, going to sporting events, working on school homework together,” Judge Scolo continued.
“These and so much are the simple joys that neither the parents nor the child in this case will ever know.”