A Fitchburg, Wisconsin family has secured $22.5 million in compensation from a state malpractice program in connection to the severe injuries suffered by their six-week-old boy during surgery to correct a birth defect. In court documents, the Wisconsin family accused a resident physician at the University of Wisconsin Health’s American Family Children’s Hospital of committing an anesthesia error that resulted in permanent brain damage.

Wisconsin State Fund Compensates Family Of Brain-Damaged Boy

Experts say the $22.5 million award is the second-largest payout from Wisconsin’s Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, a state-administered settlement program designed to compensate families in malpractice claims.

Baby Holding Finger

In their lawsuit, the family describes the fateful moments that led up to their child’s severe injuries. At six-weeks-old, the child underwent surgery at the Wisconsin children’s hospital in April 2016. During the operation, doctors hoped to repair a birth defect the child was born with – tethered cord, in which the spinal cord is attached, or stuck, to surrounding tissue.

Anesthesia Error Leads To Permanent Brain Injuries

While the surgery was successful in correcting the birth defect, attorneys for the family say something went wrong during the administration of anesthesia. Court documents suggest that Dr. Michael Chalifoux, a resident at the hospital in his last year of residency, failed to appropriately address low blood pressure readings in the young patient, who ultimately suffered permanent and severe brain damage due to the alleged mistake.

The child, now 3-years-old, is blind. He cannot walk or speak, and doctors say he will likely function at the level of a 2-year-old for the rest of his life. In a statement to the press, attorney Dan Rottier, a Madison lawyer representing the family, called the injuries a “disaster,” “sheer horror” for the boy’s parents.

Wisconsin’s State-Administered Malpractice Fund

Wisconsin’s Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund handles all malpractice payouts of more than $1 million in the state, covering every doctor in Wisconsin. Doctors in the state are required to carry private malpractice insurance up to payments of $1 million. In addition to private insurance, they are required to pay into the state’s over-arching fund, which covers malpractice compensation awards in excess of $1 million.

State Fund Attempts To Shift Blame Onto Supervising Doctor

In court filings, attorneys for the fund argued that Chalifoux’s supervising doctor, not Chalifoux himself, should be held primarily responsible for the injuries. That argument could have resulted in a far lower payment, because the supervising doctor is an employee of the University of Wisconsin Madison, for which malpractice payouts are capped at $250,000.

Court records show that Chalifoux also made a similar argument, attempting to shift blame onto his supervisor. Apparently, these arguments were unsuccessful, as the state eventually settled the case for the much larger sum of $22.5 million.

$22.5 Million Will Fund Child’s Long-Term Medical Needs

The vast majority of the compensation award has been used to fund two accounts set aside to cover the boy’s ongoing long-term medical care. His parents received around $1.9 million for their pain and suffering, while attorney fees amounted to about $4.5 million. Current Wisconsin state law limits malpractice awards for pain and suffering to $750,000. Attorneys say that, in the absence of such a cap, the family’s award would have been “twice as much.”

In a statement, representatives for the University of Wisconsin Health system were contrite. “While UW Health appreciates that this matter has been legally resolved to the satisfaction of all parties, we are painfully aware that words cannot capture the full reality of the situation for this family. Nonetheless, we extend our deepest compassion to the […] family.”