Brain-Injury Malpractice Suit Settled Out of Court

Times Staff Writer

A $4.6-million medical malpractice suit against Huntington Memorial Hospital and several doctors has been settled out of court after a Superior Court jury deliberated six days without a verdict.

Attorneys for both the hospital and the plaintiff, Tahleen Gertmenian, a 6-year-old blind and mentally retarded girl, refused to reveal the terms of the complex settlement reached last week. But sources said it could provide for about $1 million in graduated payments to Wayne and Cynthia Gertmenian for the lifetime care of their daughter.

"Under the circumstances, it seemed prudent to accept the settlement and try to put this tragedy behind us," said Wayne Gertmenian, a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. "The terms of the settlement have been sealed by the court. All I can say is that it was satisfactory to both sides."

Pasadena Superior Court Judge Melvin B. Grover said he attempted twice during the 11-week trial to bring both sides together for a settlement.

"I've been trying to settle this thing since Day 1," Grover said. "When a jury is out that long without a verdict, both sides tend to get a little antsy.

"Both sides are satisfied with the settlement. I'm satisfied with the settlement."

Case of 'Proximate Cause'

The Gertmenians contended that negligence by the hospital and Drs. Stephanie Woodfork, Wendy Wolf and Deron Hovsepian resulted in their daughter suffering permanent brain damage, developmental retardation and blindness. Attorneys for the hospital and the doctors argued that the child's care was adequate and that her medical problems probably resulted from a genetic predisposition.

The Gertmenian case revolved around the opposing testimony of experts on both sides and the complex question of "proximate cause," whether the specific acts or lack of acts by doctors and hospital staff constituted negligence and created a situation that resulted in a particular medical condition.

Tahleen Gertmenian was born in January, 1980. One month later, according to court testimony, the infant developed slight congestion and was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital, where X-rays revealed that she had traces of pneumonia.

The baby was admitted to the hospital Feb. 2. Four days later, doctors said the infant was in good health and released her.

That same day, according to court records, Cynthia Gertmenian noticed that her baby was listless, not eating and had a subnormal temperature. She telephoned Dr. Hovsepian, the infant's pediatrician, who said he would arrange for the infant to be admitted to the hospital's pediatrics unit.

Trip to Hospital

What happened over the next few hours is in dispute. Cynthia Gertmenian waited until her husband returned home later that evening before taking the infant to the hospital. The Gertmenians testified that when they arrived around 11 p.m., they were met by Drs. Wolf and Woodfork, who said the infant could not be admitted to the pediatrics unit without first going to emergency.

The Gertmenians testified that they waited for more than an hour, until shortly before 1 a.m., for their daughter to be admitted into emergency.

Once admitted, the baby was examined by Wolf, who said the infant appeared fine. But as Wolf handed the infant back to the couple, the baby turned blue and suffered a respiratory arrest.

A few hours later, after the infant had been taken to the pediatric intensive care unit, she suffered a major seizure. This seizure, coupled with complications related to having low blood sugar, resulted in the child's permanent blindness and brain damage.

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