A Lea County mother and child were awarded $73.2 million Thursday in a medical malpractice lawsuit accusing a doctor of a gruesomely botched childbirth that left the newborn boy with permanent brain damage and other injuries with lifelong effects.
A Santa Fe jury found the doctor, Jerry McLaughlin, and his Carlsbad-based outpatient clinic employer, Pecos Valley of New Mexico, negligent in preparing for what was expected to be a risky delivery and liable for injuries to both the mother and child, according to state District Court documents.
McLaughlin initially was named as a defendant in the suit but died in January 2017 at age 52, according to his obituary in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. A cause of death was not included.
During the 2013 birth of Jonathan Botello, documents say, the 11.5-pound infant went 10 minutes without oxygen and was ripped from the birth canal by vacuum.
Jonathan, now 5, and his mother, Lorenza Botello of Hobbs, received $19.8 million and $13.3 million, respectively, in the verdict; the jury unanimously awarded an additional $40 million in punitive damages.
The Albuquerque-based attorneys who represented the Botellos called it a landmark award.
“The jury was angry,” Kent Buckingham said. “This verdict, to me, represents the power of a jury. They will effect change by their vote here, by their award. That will get the attention of every health care provider in New Mexico and, actually, across the country.”
Representatives of the Pecos Valley group did not return phone messages Friday seeking comment on the jury award.
The case appeared in a Santa Fe courtroom because the boy’s court-appointed conservator is based in Santa Fe.
“When health care providers hear about this verdict, they will make sure they make changes in their policies so that another little boy and mom don’t have to suffer,” Buckingham added. “That is the power of what a Santa Fe jury can do.”
Botello, who is diabetic and was 36 at the time of Jonathan’s birth, should have received a series of ultrasound examinations over the course of her 17 visits to the Pecos Valley clinic in Hobbs because she was at risk of delivering an “unusually large” baby due to her age and diabetes, the lawsuit says.
Despite several measurements that suggested a strong likelihood of a large infant, however, McLaughlin did not provide additional tests and incorrectly estimated the baby’s weight to be 8 pounds prior to labor, according to the complaint.
McLaughlin “failed to heed” the recommendations of specialists at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center who advised further evaluations and ultrasounds, court documents state. He also did not recommend a cesarean section.
Upon childbirth, the baby boy’s shoulders were too wide to pass through the birth canal, and he became stuck with his head through, where he languished for 10 minutes without oxygen or the ability to breathe on his own, the suit says.
McLaughlin applied a “vacuum extraction device” to the boy’s head and “forcibly yanked” him through, ripping apart the bundle of nerves that control his right arm.
The mother sustained a severe laceration.
The boy’s injuries included hypoxic ischemic brain damage, the suit says.
Jonathan Botello’s right hand does not function and his right arm “is not much better,” Buckingham said, adding that the boy’s brain injury will never allow him to live independently. “He will likely reside in a group home setting.”
Buckingham estimated the $73.2 million award to be a record for a medical malpractice suit in New Mexico.
“A child who entered this world and faced tragedy now has an opportunity to live a better life,” attorney Rick Barrera said.