Michigan woman awarded $42 million verdict over permanent injuries from traumatic birth

by Michael Heygood

Markell VanSlembrouck was born in 1995 at William Beaumont Hospital. Markell, now 18, cannot walk, talk, or feed herself, and requires full-time care. Markell’s birth was traumatic. She was an exceptionally large newborn, weighing in at 10.5 pounds. At delivery, Markell was limp, blue, and unresponsive. She did not breathe spontaneously. Her head, trunk, and upper extremities appeared bruised. Her collarbone was fractured during an obstetrical maneuver made necessary when her shoulders became stuck in the birth canal. Markell’s one-minute Apgar score was one; a zero score would have been consistent with her death.

Markell filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in Oakland County Circuit Court against Beaumont Health and gynecologist Andrew Halperin regarding the circumstances of Markel’s birth. The lawsuit accused the defendants of being negligent by, for example, failing to recommend or offer a Cesarean section procedure because of the baby’s size, failing to refrain from causing trauma to Markell during vaginal delivery, failing to avoid fracturing the baby’s clavicle, and failing to avoid causing central nervous system injury to the baby.

Following a complex and hotly-contested 18–day trial, a jury found for the plaintiffs. The jury attributed Markell’s neurologic injuries to medical malpractice and assessed her damages at $144 million. The award was later reduced to about $42 million, because much of the damages—for future projected health costs and future lost income—had to be reduced to their present dollar value. In addition, another $13.5 million awarded for noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering was capped by a state law limiting such awards that was enacted during the 1990s. A Michigan Court of Appeals has now affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of Markel. Vanslembrouck ex rel. Braverman v. Halperin, No. 309680, 2014 WL 5462596 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 28, 2014)

The trial evidence centered on the cause of Markell’s neurologic condition and the scientific validity of plaintiffs’ causation theories. Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses opined that Markell’s traumatic birth caused her disabilities. Defendants’ experts countered that a genetic abnormality called pontine cerebellar hypoplasia (PCH) fully accounts for Markell’s current condition. Fifteen expert witnesses debated the case over the course of the lengthy trial. The court of appeals determined, in essence, that it was for the jury to decide who was right.

Get Help With Your Medical Malpractice Claim

As Markel’s lawsuit illustrates, medical malpractice claims can be lengthy, complex and expensive. To successfully bring a personal injury or wrongful death claim on behalf of a child, clients need an experienced, educated attorney on their side. They also need an attorney with the financial resources to take the case to trial.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson has the knowledge, experience and financial resources necessary to prosecute even the most complex medical negligence case. Our firm’s success is largely due to the fact that we are real trial attorneys and have tried hundreds of cases to verdict. Mr. Heygood, Mr. Orr, and Mr. Pearson are all Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Heygood and Mr. Orr are additionally Board Certified in Civil Trial Advocacy Law by the National Board of Trial Advocacy.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is AV-rated, the highest legal and ethical rating available from the leading law firm rating service. In addition, our partners James Craig Orr, Jr., Eric Pearson, and myself have been voted by our peers as Super Lawyers in the state of Texas for several years in a row.*

The attorneys at Heygood, Orr & Pearson are very proud of the work they have done on behalf children who have been unfortunately injured as a result of the negligence of others, including:

  • $36 million jury verdict for a child who suffered brain damage and other serious injuries in a bus crash on the way to church camp.
  • $6.7 million verdict in a personal injury lawsuit against the United States for medical errors at a VA hospital, which caused permanent brain damage to an 8-year-old child.
  • $2.2 million jury verdict in a personal injury lawsuit involving improper discharge of a newborn from the hospital with low glucose levels, resulting in moderate brain damage.

If you believe you or a loved one has suffered as a result of medical malpractice, please contact us by calling us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001 or by filling out our case evaluation form for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options.


* Michael Heygood, James Craig Orr, Jr. and Eric Pearson were selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication, for the years 2003 through 2014.

by Michael Heygood

Michael Heygood is a licensed attorney and partner at HO&P who focuses on insurance and corporate litigation, and other civil arenas. Michael has been named multiple times to the Super Lawyers List.