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Jury returns verdict against ACMC and Rice Hospital

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- A Kandiyohi County jury has awarded $23.2 million to a Paynesville family whose daughter is severely handicapped due to complications during her birth in June 2007 at Rice Memorial Hospital.

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The verdict was returned Tuesday evening in Kandiyohi County District Court.

The jury found Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Rice Memorial Hospital negligent in the June 6, 2007, birth of Kylie Rodgers, daughter of Elise Rodgers and Matthew Larson of Paynesville.

Dr. Gabrielle Vencel Olson, a family practice physician at ACMC, was the physician during the birth.

She was removed as a defendant during the 11-day trial because she had been acting as an agent of ACMC, a regional clinic.

The trial began Jan. 25 before Judge Donald M. Spilseth.

The jury began deliberations Tuesday afternoon.

As the result of being deprived of oxygen during delivery, Kylie has multiple health problems including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, cortical impairment, neurological difficulties, and seizures, according to court files and her caringbridge.org Web site at www.caringbridge.org/ visit/kyliechristine.

The jury attributed 80 percent of the negligence to Affiliated Community Medical Centers and 20 percent to the city-owned hospital.

The defense prevailed on one issue, with the jury saying that Vencel Olson did inform Elise Rodgers of the risks of inducing labor and of vaginal delivery.

The jury award includes $1.7 million for past health care expenses, $10 million for future health care expenses, $10 million for past and future pain, disability and emotional distress, and $1.5 million for loss of earning capacity.

Edward Matonich of Hibbing, who led a legal team representing Kylie Rodgers, said Wednesday that the family and their lawyers were pleased and felt it was the correct verdict.

The jury's award was appropriate "under the law of Minnesota and the devastating effect this tragedy has had on the child," he said. The girl's injuries have a "ripple effect that goes out and affects every aspect of her life as well as everybody around her," he added.

"This is not a condemnation of the clinic and the hospital, rather a necessary response to one unfortunate incident," Matonich said. Workers at Rice came to the rescue of the child after the injury and saved her life, he said, and nurses and doctors at both facilities "are helping to keep her alive."

David Alsop, the lead attorney for the clinic and hospital, said the verdict and the size of the award had surprised him. "We had experts who felt the care was appropriate," he said. He called Kylie's injuries "a very tragic and unpredictable event."

It could be four to five months before the defendants decide whether to appeal. Post-trial motions to address legal issues would be the next step, Alsop said. Motions must be filed within 30 days, and the judge would have 90 days to rule on them before a decision would be made on an appeal, he said.

"A conscientious and attentive jury listened to 11 days of testimony and arguments," Matonich said. "We're aware it was a difficult case for the jury," he added, and the family appreciated the jurors' effort and sacrifice.

"We thank the jury, the judge and the entire community for all the courtesies extended to us," Matonich said.

Alsop said he appreciated the jury's service, too. "While I may not like the result, I respect their decision. ... It's still a good process," he said.

Both attorneys praised Spilseth's handling of the case. However, they disagreed on the prospect of an appeal. Matonich didn't think there were any appealable issues, but Alsop said he believed some matters require further consideration.

If there is an appeal, Matonich said, he and his team will be ready. "This is Kylie's case," he said, "and the quality of the client is always more indicative of the outcome than any lawyering."

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