Famous attorney wins big malpractice case

By Chris Dickerson | Mar 30, 2006

Geoffrey Fieger

MORGANTOWN – An attorney best known for his defense of "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian helped convince a Monongalia County jury to award $17 million in damages to a Pennsylvania girl whose family says was severely brain-damaged by a botched delivery at birth.

The Circuit Court jury ruled for 9-year-old Marissa Pochron of Rice's Landing, Pa., on March 27. The lawsuit was filed by her parents, Mark and Lori Pochron, against Monongalia General Hospital and Dr. Louise E. Van Ripe, an obstetrician.

The jury awarded $12 million in economic damages and $5 million in non-economic damages. But state law caps non-economic damages at $1 million, so the actual award was for $13 million instead of $17 million.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said he was satisfied with the verdict and award.

"I'm very pleased especially in light of the attitude of the insurance company for the doctors," said Fieger, who also won $25 million for the family of a man killed after a "Jenny Jones Show" appearance. "It was a no-holds-barred defense. They said Marissa was secretly injured in her mom's tummy before she was born to try to excuse their negligence."

Fieger said he is sure there will be no appeal.

The trial lasted more than five weeks, and the jury deliberated for 10 hours before announcing the verdict in Monongalia Circuit Judge Robert B. Stone's courtroom.

The lawsuit claimed the defendants were negligent in caring for Marissa during labor and delivery by waiting to do an emergency C-section when the fetal heart monitor showed distress. As a result, the suit says Marissa's brain was deprived of oxygen and she suffered severe brain damage.

The suit also alleges Marissa was abandoned by the hospital nursing staff and put into a room alone where she later was found blue and not breathing. She was revived and taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital where she was stabilized, the suit states.

As a result, Fieger said Marissa is a spastic quadriplegic with limited ability to think.

Fieger said 11 nationally known medical experts testified that the defendants were grossly negligent.

"I really the feel the hospital was held hostage by the insurance company" he said. "Their defense was almost patently absurd. I'm glad the jurors saw through that.

"West Virginia juries are as sensitive to the rights of victims as any other juries in the country."

He also criticized the state's $1 million cap on non-economic damages.

"That is absurd since she will suffer the rest of her life," Fieger said. "These caps have been promoted by the insurance.

"Marissa will have to live like this for 72 more years. She is crippled. She is blind. Her brain will never function. And the Legislature artificially imposes a cap of $1 million? Should a drunken driver have a cap on damages if he injures someone in a wreck? And they're doing it all over the country at the request of the insurance companies.

"Marissa will never live independently. Marissa will never work. Marissa will never feel the joy of marrying or having children. Marissa will out-live her parents. This beautiful little girl will eventually be dependent on the kindness of strangers."

Of all the high-profile cases he's worked, Fieger said this one ranks high in terms of satisfaction.

"To get justice for her is a pretty good thing," he said.

Fieger, who was the Democratic nominee for governor of Michigan in 1998, currently is running for the office of Michigan's Attorney General. He also is the older brother of Doug Fieger of the 70s rock group The Knack.

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