7 News Belize

Largest Medical Malpractice Award Ever
posted (November 4, 2010)
It didn't make the news when the Supreme Court handed down the largest medical Malpractice award in Belize a few weeks ago. It was an award of 2.5 million dollars for 10 year old Janae Matute and half a million for her mother, Georgia's pain and suffering.

But while the medical malpractice finding is huge news - the real story is how this family has managed to get by for all these years without any special assistance - in fact, her mother had to stop working just to take care of her daughter. We've been tracking the story since last week and earlier this week we traveled up to the village of Roaring Creek to meet with 9 year old Janae and her mother who told Monica Bodden their story.

We found little Janay Matute in her Standard 4 classroom - at the Roaring Creek Nazarene School. As you can see - she is no ordinary 9 year old - but her determination to live a normal life - is unbreakable.

Janay was born with cerebral palsy - Which is damage caused to the motor control centers of her brain.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"She is unable to walk, she is unable to sit up alone, she is unable to feed herself, I mean like simple thing that people take for granted like your little fine motor skills to pick up a bean or something small, she is unable to do all of those stuff. She has poor coordination in her arms. She has suffered from cross eyes but I notice that as time goes by her eyes are straightening properly so that's a blessing. Her speech is kind of blurred but doctors say that she will not be able to talk."

The Supreme Court found that Janay's condition is the result of being born premature, because Doctor Raju Meenavalli miscalculated the gestational age of pregnancy, and her lungs were not mature enough to distribute oxygen to her body:

Georgia Matute - Mother
"It started when I miss my menstruation 2001 and I went to Dr. Raju and I told him that I believe I was pregnant and when he check me he said that had missed it prior to the time I was telling him and I told him I said I know when I missed my menstruation, it was around my birthday and everything, anyway he said that I was pregnant prior to that and that it was normal to see spotting at times. Anyway eventually I went to Loma Luz Hospital where they did an ultra sound and it showed that yes indeed my pregnancy was corresponding with the date that I had mention to Dr. Raju. I went back to Dr. Raju clinic and I told him I say that I have an ultra sound here that I took and he got really upset, he got mad and he said 'nonsense they don't know what they are doing' and he just push the paper back to me; the paper actually fell to the floor and I felt hurt, I really felt terrible when he did that and he said 'get on the bed so I can check you' and I got on the bed and he examine me and then he said that he was correct."

On the twentieth of December, 2000 Georgia Matute had a c-section performed. That was Fourteen days earlier than the date Dr Raju had set.

The actual date scheduled for her delivery was in fact- January 3rd.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"Eventually in December he said that it was time for delivery, that Janay could go into distress because he was saying that Janay was suppose to be born in January."

Monica Bodden
"Loma Luz was saying that Janay was to be born....."

Georgia Matute - Mother
"In February. Eventually like I am saying in December now he says that you know what that the theatre will be closed and Janay could go into distress because the doctor will be going on holidays and the theatre will be closed. So I had to go in for a C-Section on the 19; I report in on the 19th and did the C-Section on the 20th of December. When I woke up from there is because my daughter was in an incubator and he had the heart to look at me and tell me that it was my fault, he told me that it was my fault and the person that I am I just would take that and I told him no it's not my fault I told him that you are the one because I kept telling Dr. Raju and so it all began that Janay suffered from asphyxia."

At that time Matute still didn't realize the extent of damage to her newborn baby girl.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"It wasn't until a year later when I went to the pediatrician in Belmopan and I said you know what I don't know but something is not too right with my child and her development and then he said that 'I could have told you this a long time ago but I wasn't sure, but I believe your child suffered lack of oxygen to her brain, I believe she is brain damage, but we can prove it by going to the diagnostic center to do some tests' and low and behold when I went to diagnostic center she had suffered damage to the section of the brain that controls her motor skills."

That was just the beginning of what was coming - a struggle she must now live with for the rest of her life.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"I decided to push because after I resign from my job and the hardship that I've been going through and everything, I decided to go for it because I went to ministry of health on many occasions and I wrote to them asking for assistance, they did sent me to Dr. Grinage in Belize City but despite the fact that Dr. Grinage wrote in his letter that he believe that they should assist this family and child, they never did do anything and I was really desperate to try and get help for my child because other doctors were saying that it was crucial that she gets some therapy before she reach the age of 5 years old. So that really push me to go and do it."

In 2003 - her case was taken to court - as this mother desperately tried to prove the negligence of a doctor she once trusted.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"My attorney did file in court in 2003 but actually they had started to prepare the case file from 2002. My attorney mentions to me that he had to do research in Canada and England as well because there is no other case like this."

In spite of the difficulties proving professional negligence against doctors - a judgment was made 7 years later - on the 5th of March in favor of Georgia Matute. Dr. Raju was ordered to pay 2.5 million to little Janay and .5 million dollars to her mother for pain and suffering.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"It had been a long drag you know. It's like every time you go its adjourn, adjourned and even when the judge was passing his judgment I was in court and I gave up at that point because he started off and was saying about the case with Michael Williams and stuff like that and I know how Michael Williams case ended up and so I was sure that we had lost this case and I walk out of the courtroom, I walk out and I came home and I could recall being on my verandah alone, I didn't pick up my kids from my parents yet; I was on the verandah alone and I was just counting from 1 to 10 and I was just praying and then the phone call came in from my attorney's office that they found Dr. Raju guilty; I was so excited, I think I went into shock, I cried for many days, I was weak in my bed. I was so excited and I am still very excited because like I always say; I don't have a dollar in my hand right now from winning this case but this is victory in itself."

Even with Janay's condition - and the burden of cerebral palsy - Georgia tries to make it as normal as possible for her.

Georgia Matute - Mother
"I try to ensure that her life is as normal as possible. Even though she has a special I try to make her life as normal. She attends every party that we are invited to, she is there, parade she is there in her wheelchair and we are parading together around the ring road. We do everything together. We are a tag team."

Nonetheless - life for the Matute family - is a series of challenges. 11 year old Amy - is one year older than her sister. She too helps out with little Janay.

An average day for the Matute family - is rather chaotic.

And even though it has been proven - that little Janay could have had a normal life- if it wasn't for the negligence of her doctor - Georgia Matute said - she has found the strength within to purge herself of the anger produced by that painful thought.

Despite the many obstacles she faces on a daily basis - Matute says, her daughter is her bundle of joy. Georgia said she couldn't have done everything without the help of her attorney - Fred Lumor. Janay is also excited about their victory…

Janae will be ten on December 20th…and for clarity, the judgment awarded 2.5 million dollars for the child and half a million dollars for her mother's pain and suffering.

We note that the judgment is under appeal by both the attorneys for Dr. Minavalli and the Matute's. For the Matute's, Attorney Fred Lumour hopes to get the court of appeals to rule that the government is also liable since the Doctor was employed at the government hospital where the child was born. The trial judge found that the government was protected from liability by the statute bar.

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