Janae Matute and her mother, Georgia Matute, were jubilant today over a decision handed down this morning by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in which the court agreed with decisions made by the lower courts to award the family over $2 million in damages after they found Georgia’s gynecologist, Dr. Raju Meenavalli, liable for miscalculating her due date—an error which the courts believe caused Janae to develop her lifelong disability.
Janae sued via her next of kin, Georgia Matute, her mother.
“I am very excited,” her mother said, expressing her gratitude that The Almighty has blessed them in being able to see justice in the matter.
“A lot of times we feel we do not get justice, but He is faithful,” said Matute. She told us that she has not yet gotten an indication from her attorneys on what will be done to ensure that the court’s award will be settled.
Roberta Magnus-Usher, who was holding brief today for Senior Counsel Fred Lumor, attorney for Janae, told us that she anticipates that there may be a bit of difficulty collecting the award issued by the court, since it has been more than 10 years and there is the question of what has transpired with Dr. Raju’s assets.
Usher described today’s CCJ ruling as “a great victory for the little girl!” She told us that it is a precedent-setting case for Belize and the region, and was jubilant that the CCJ upheld the decision made by the lower court.
She noted that while the CCJ has ordered Dr. Raju to pay costs to the Matutes, the CCJ upheld the ruling by the Court of Appeal, which also held the Government of Belize liable to Janae, although the Government will not have to pay costs of the CCJ appeal, since it was not a party in the case. The CCJ stressed that the Attorney-General of Belize did not challenge the Court of Appeal’s decision.
Janae, now 13, currently a student at Belmopan Comprehensive High School, was born in 2000 with lung problems and developed cerebral palsy—a condition said to be marked by impaired muscle coordination (spastic paralysis) and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth. Janae has to use a wheelchair, and her mother is now her full-time caregiver.
In the decision handed down this morning by a panel of justices led by Justice Nelson along with Justices Saunders, Wit, Hayton and Anderson, the CCJ said that “…Dr. Raju’s medical error in calculating the gestational age of Janae was not only a breach of the common standard of care applicable to medical practitioners, but also of the standard of care applicable to specialists in the field of obstetrics and gynecology.”
Meenavalli was accused of having miscalculated the stage of the mother’s pregnancy, and so Janae was delivered at 34 weeks via C-section, the court noted.
The CCJ found that while Matute had undergone her last menstrual period (LPM) as of April 27, 2000, the doctor recorded it as March 27, 2000, leading her to prematurely deliver Janae and consequently to Janae’s developing cerebral palsy.
“By December 20, 2000, according to the La Loma Luz Report, disdainfully rejected by Dr. Raju, and the Weekly Pregnancy Calculator based on Mrs. Matute’s LMP of April 27, 2000, she would have been 34 weeks pregnant and not 36.6 weeks as pleaded in the defense,” the CCJ panel said.
The Belize Court of Appeal had upheld a ruling in favor of Janae, awarding her and her mother $2.13 million in damages in 2012, a reduction in the $2.5 million that the Supreme Court had awarded back in 2008.
Justice Awich had awarded Janae $708,203 for future earnings, $80,000 for pain and suffering, $450,000 for loss of amenities, $50,000 for equipment, $240,000 for three vehicles during her lifetime, $200,000 for future accommodation, $50,000 for special education and $227,000 to hire a caregiver. All this totaled $2,005,203. However, in March 2012, the Court of Appeal reduced Janae’s awards by about $558,203, making the new tally $1,447,000.
Justice Awich additionally awarded the mother $104,341 for travel and medical expenses, $80,000 for pain and suffering and $497,416 for loss of earnings, for a total of $681,757. The Court of Appeal upheld these awards.
Amandala tried to get comment from Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, Dr. Raju’s attorney, on the matter, but we were advised that he did not wish to comment.