Child Awarded $5.8 Million for Injuries : Unnoticed Fetal Problems Left Girl Blind, Retarded, Crippled

Times Staff Writer

A 3-year-old girl has won a jury award of more than $5.8 million for a Mission Viejo hospital's failure to detect problems before her birth that left her blind, mentally retarded and a quadriplegic.

The Orange County Superior Court jury unanimously agreed Friday that Mission Community Hospital was liable for the injuries to Melissa Ann Driml of Orange. Nurses monitoring the fetal heart rate failed three times to react to indications that the heart rate was falling, said Melissa's lawyer, Cornelius P. Bahan of Santa Ana.

"The parents are thrilled with the verdict. They've been providing medical care for her since she was born," Bahan said.

Two Physicians Cleared

Melissa was the first child of Lisa and Dennis Driml, both 23. Dennis Driml is a carpet layer. The baby's parents and the hospital's lawyer, Richard E. Madory of Tustin, could not be reached for comment.

The jury cleared the mother's two physicians of any blame. Their lawyer, Joseph Lawrence of Santa Ana, said the doctors were "exhilarated" that they were exonerated and happy the Drimls received compensation.

Three times over four days in December, 1981, three part-time nurses either did not detect or did not report a printout pattern from a fetal heart monitoring machine that showed a falling heart rate, Bahan said.

A falling heart rate, Bahan and Lawrence said, indicates that something is wrong with the fetus. In Melissa Ann Driml's case, it turned out that she was getting a steadily decreasing amount of oxygen.

Did Not Call Doctor

Bahan said Lisa Driml went to Mission Community Hospital on Dec. 18 after passing her delivery date. A fetal heart monitor indicated something was wrong, but nurses did not call a doctor and instead sent Driml home for another week, he said.

Shortly after 2 a.m. on Dec. 21, Driml returned to the hospital, believing she was in labor. The same pattern showed up on the machine, and one nurse testified that she called Dr. Dennis Martin of Laguna Beach. But, the lawyers said, Martin testified that he did not recall getting any call.

Driml was sent home but returned at 3:30 p.m. the next day. Bahan said the monitoring machine produced an even more alarming pattern, but nurses were too busy to notice it. The baby was delivered less than two hours later.

Too Late for Caesarean

Dr. James Ramsey, Martin's partner, testified that he never knew about the falling heart rate until it was too late to perform a Caesarean section, Lawrence said.

Madory indicated to Bahan that he would ask Superior Court Judge Jerrold S. Oliver, who presided over the two-week trial, to allow the hospital to pay the award over a period of time, as state law provides.

State law required Oliver to cut $250,000 out of the $5,822,000 verdict. The jury had included an award of $500,000 for pain and suffering, but state law now limits such awards to $250,000.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World