EAST ST. LOUIS — District judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel ruled that an almost $8.3 million award to the family of a boy injured at birth in 2014 at a federally supported clinic in Christopher is appropriate in part because of what the child will face as a result of his injuries.
The now five-year-old Steven Zhao knows his immovable right arm is different from his classmates' arms, Rosenstengel wrote in her 59-page memorandum and order.
"Steven will be fully aware, probably hyper-aware, of what he cannot do because of his injury," Rosenstengel wrote in the Aug. 22 order. "Every time he is unable to join in a basketball game with his friends; every time he has to enlist the help of his left hand to reach up and brush his hair, or to eat, or to dress; every time he notices a stranger or new acquaintance do a double-take when they see his right arm, he will suffer some amount of emotional distress. No matter how adapted or otherwise-happy Steven is, for the rest of his life he will live with a right arm that is not normal."
Steven Zhao's mother, Yong Juan "Maggie" Zhao sued the federal government on her son's behalf in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The family is represented by Tom Keefe of Swansea.
Steven Zhao was stuck by the shoulders in his mother's birth canal for nine minutes during his delivery at Christopher Greater Area Rural Health Planning Corporation in June 2014, according to background provided in Rosenstengel's order. His mother subsequently sued, claiming that she told healthcare providers at the time that she wanted a cesarean section to deliver her son, who weighed more than 11 pounds.
During delivery, Steven Zhao suffered injury to his brachial plexus, the bundle of nerves that extend from the throat portion of his cord, which permanently damaged his right shoulder, arm and hand.
Maggie Zhao, with her husband Zhi Qiang Zhao, has three other sons who were delivered without complications. She alleges she received negligent care during her pregnancy and delivery, resulting in Steven Zhao's injuries at birth.
Maggie Zhao exhausted her administrative remedies with the United States Department of Health and Human Services once she submitted an administrative tort claim seeking $30 million in damages, the order states.
Rosenstengel's order followed a bench trial in April.
Rosenstengel awarded the Zhaos almost $65,000 in past medical expenses, $80,000 in future medical expenses, more than $2.6 million in future lost earning, $1.5 million for disfigurement, and $2 million each for loss of a normal life, pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Attorneys for the U.S. had urged Rosenstengel to consider damages handed down in similar cases in which newborns were injured during delivery. In her memorandum and order, Rosenstengel wrote that some of those previous cases were difficult to apply because, among other things, information about the cases was limited, they involved settlements and involved different injuries.
"When considering this limited information gathered from other cases, the Court concludes that the above awarded damages to Mrs. Zhao on behalf of Steven are supported by the evidence, reasonable, and justified," Rosenstengel wrote.