An Amador County jury awarded a 7-year-old boy $8.4 million last week, after unreported abuse left the child paralyzed when he was just weeks old. According to the law office of Young Ward & Lothert, the October 18 verdict is believed to be the largest in Amador County history.
According to the lawsuit, filed against Sutter Health, as well as members of the boy’s biological family, after the child, Cree Miller, was abused by family members, the attending physicians in the Emergency Room of Sutter Amador Hospital failed to report the evidence of abuse, which later lead to injuries that paralyzed the child.
“One phone call could have saved this little boy of seven weeks old. We are the protectors of all our children, that’s why we have these laws. This never would have happened if they followed the policy. They would not listen; they did not know how. Perhaps they will listen now,” said Chris Keane, one of three lawyers representing Miller.
In January 2011, when Miller was just seven weeks old, he was taken to the ER at Sutter Amador Hospital. The attending nurse noted that the “baby had blood in his mouth last evening, so the mother took him to the ER.”
“There were nursing notes stating that he had bruising on his face, blood in his mouth and injury to his eye,” Keane, and Edward Stark and Jennifer Lothert, the plaintiff’s other two attorneys, explained. “The hospital has a policy for these instances; when a child is under six months old, anything that looks suspicious, they are to follow their policy and report it to Child Protective Services.”
Miller’s biological parents, who were teenagers, claimed that the injuries were self-inflicted.
“The boy was abused by his teenager biological parents, but Sutter failed to report it,” Stark said.
Three weeks later, when Cree was ten weeks old, his biological parents brought him back to the Emergency Room. The infant was paralyzed from the waist down due to a new spinal injury. He had also suffered bruising, a broken clavicle and two broken ribs.
Experts testified at the trial that these injuries were consistent with child abuse and opined that they therefore should have been reported to Child Protective Services.
“This all could have been avoided by just one call to Protective Services; that is why it’s the law,” Keane said. “Now we have a little boy in a wheelchair the rest of his life. Hospital doctors, nurses, any health care providers are bound by law to report, if they think there is slightest chance of abuse they must report it… We hope this wakes up all health care providers.”
Miller was removed from the custody of his biological parents after the injury that would leave him paralyzed, but found a new home with Dawn Miller, of Calaveras County. She adopted the baby and changed his name to Cree, which is a Native American word meaning “warrior.”
“Dawn is the most amazing woman I have ever met; she is strong and gracious, just amazing. She changed that little boy’s life,” Lothert said.
The damages awarded to Miller are intended to help pay for his pain and suffering and future lost earnings. Damages are to be paid by four biological family members found to have contributed to the abuse, as well as Sutter Health.
Sutter Amador has acknowledged the role it played in the incident. Leslie Meiring, spokesperson for Sutter Health responded with this statement: “We are very sorry for what Cree and the Miller family has experienced. This case offers us the opportunity for analysis and to learn as much as we can about how to improve. Our goal is to deliver the highest quality care and to treat all our patients with compassion and dignity.”
Sarah Spinetta, Dave Gebauer and Caitlyn Schaap contributed to this report.