Cassidy Ediger was the only family member unable to celebrate when the Supreme Court of Canada restored a multimillion-dollar award to the family in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
In a ruling Thursday, the court concluded that an obstetrician is liable for injuries caused to Cassidy, who is now 15 years old and suffers from permanent spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy. A lawyer for the Ediger family, Vincent Orchard, said the ultimate award is almost certain to equal or exceed the $3,224,000 awarded at trial. Cassidy is unaware of the tragedy that befell her in a 1998 birthing-room incident, or the marathon litigation her parents have doggedly pursued since then.
As the magnitude of their victory sank in for her parents, Carolyn and Scott, Cassidy sat nearby, watching cartoons on television.
“She is fully dependent on us for every aspect of her daily care,” Carolyn Ediger said in an interview. “It’s an ongoing cycle of care. She needs to be fed, cared for and medicated; even just giving her time to roll around on the floor and stretch. We don’t think. We just do.”
Written by Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein and Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver, the 7-0 court ruling restored a liability finding that had been overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court found that an obstetrician who attended Cassidy’s birth, Dr. William Johnston, was negligent when he used forceps to assist the delivery without adequately explaining the risks to Cassidy’s mother.
It said that Dr. Johnston’s attempt to position the forceps to extract the baby may have displaced her head, causing the umbilical cord to become compressed during subsequent maternal contractions.
The error led to a condition known as bradycardia, in which a decrease in heart rate can potentially deprive the brain of oxygen.
Dr. Johnston also erred by failing to have surgical backup immediately available to deliver Cassidy by cesarean section in case of an emergency, the court said. “He did not even inquire into the availability of an anesthetist,” it said. “That fell below the standard of care.”
Cassidy suffers from permanent spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy. She is unable to speak, is tube-fed and uses a wheelchair. Her life expectancy is 38 years.
At Chilliwack General Hospital on Jan. 24, 1998, the procedure began to go wrong after Cassidy’s head became positioned sideways in the birth canal.
Since he had not anticipated problems, Dr. Johnston did not inform Ms. Ediger of the potential risks associated with the forceps procedure, including the possibility of brain damage.
However, unhappy with the progress of his forceps extraction plan, Dr. Johnston soon left the delivery room to arrange for a C-section. It took 18 minutes before an anesthetist was able to attend and an emergency C-section took place.
In its review of the trial decision, the B.C. Court of Appeal concluded that Dr. Johnston’s forceps attempt did not cause the umbilical cord compression, which led to the baby’s injuries. It also said the trial judge was wrong to conclude that Dr. Johnston’s failure to have adequate backup available caused Cassidy’s injury.
Ms. Ediger said the family was “relieved, grateful and overjoyed,” by the Supreme Court decision.
“It has been a bit of a roller coaster,” she said. “You live your life on hold in some respects. There finally came a point where we figured that we had to go on with an assumption that we would never win.”
Two years ago, after spending Cassidy’s early life tending to her full-time, Ms. Ediger became a special-needs school teacher. Mr. Ediger works in construction.
Ms. Ediger recalled that, soon after Cassidy’s birth, a couple of friends predicted that she would be thankful one day for what had happened.
“I thought they were crazy, but today, I do agree,” she said. “I’m thankful for the way it has changed me. I also hope Cassidy’s case will set a precedent that will prevent other kids having the same thing happen to them during their birth.”
Notwithstanding the tremendous amount of work it takes to bring up a special-needs child, Ms. Ediger said that Cassidy, “is a real joy to have in our home.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Sometimes, it is bigger than what we can see.”