Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles wins suit over surgery for disabled boy

A Los Angeles jury Tuesday found in favor of Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and two doctors in a $19-million civil lawsuit filed by a Tujunga man who said they had operated on his infant son without his consent.

Eduardo Rivas, 43, sued in Los Angeles County Superior Court in June, alleging that doctors had operated on his 6-month-old son, Nathan, to repair a double hernia in 2007 after he had refused permission.

After the surgery, Nathan, who was born four months premature and arrived at the hospital with a nasal breathing tube, became dependent on a ventilator and feeding tube, according to Rivas’ Beverly Hills-based lawyer, Nathaniel Friedman.

During the two-week trial, hospital officials argued that Rivas, a U.S. citizen, understood English and consented to the surgery by phone during a conversation with his son’s surgeon that was witnessed by a nurse. They attributed Nathan’s complications to his premature birth, which left him “frail,” with chronic lung disease and neurological problems.

“We take comfort in the validation from the jury that we obtained Mr. Rivas’ consent to perform surgery on his son and that we did what was medically necessary for Nathan,” hospital spokesman Steve Rutledge said Tuesday.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin had ruled inadmissible a state report released last month by the California Department of Public Health that found the hospital could provide no record of Rivas giving consent.

State investigators also found that the hospital failed to provide Rivas with a Spanish interpreter in violation of its own policy.

Friedman said he wished he had been able to show the state report to jurors. Nathan is covered by Medi-Cal. The state health insurance program has already paid $913,000 for the boy’s care and will probably pay thousands more in coming years, he said.

“We did our best,” Friedman said.