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$10 million awarded to boy's family

A King County jury has returned a $10 million judgment against the Franciscan Health System in the case of a 4-year-old boy who suffered brain damage when he was 6 days old.

Nathaniel Johns, born May 14, 1997 in Tacoma, suffered the brain damage due to his untreated jaundice condition after he was released from the hospital one day after his birth. He was seen by a lactation consultant at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way, but it was too late.

The boy suffers from cerebral palsy and will likely always be bound to a wheelchair.

A Franciscan spokesman, Daven Rosener, said the agency was disappointed in the jury’s decision, but had not decided whether to appeal the case filed in February 1999.

The jury’s verdict also included 540,000 awarded to Nathaniel Johns’ parents, former Federal Way residents Doug and Jodie Johns.

“This case came to where did the responsibility lie for this child’s care,” said Rosener, noting Franciscan health care workers ran blood tests, checked results and referred the boy to a pediatrician.

“We believe our staff acted appropriately. We stand behind them,” he said.

Seattle attorney Robert N. Gellatly, who served as co-counsel for the boy’s court-appointed guardian, said he was “very pleased for this young boy” upon hearing the ruling for compensatory damages. The jury found the Johnses 20 percent responsible for Nathaniel’s condition, and the hospital 80 percent.

The Johns have since moved to Minneapolis.

Gellatly said if Franciscan appeals the process — along with any potential financial settlement — would be delayed by at least a couple years.

But he said he was glad the babies diagnosed with jaundice — by some estimates 60 percent — will now get extra attention.

“It’s a re-emerging problem,” Gellatly said. “It was pretty much eradicated in the 1970s.

“Because of the earlier discharges, babies just aren’t being followed,” he said.

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