Jury awards $23M to family of girl born with brain damage at Advocate Trinity Hospital

Advocate Trinity Hospital must pay $23 million to the family of a 7-year-old girl who was born with brain damage at the hospital, a Cook County jury decided Monday.

The jury reached its verdict after a two-and-half week trial in Cook County Circuit Court, according to attorneys for the family. The jury awarded the family of Na’Jai Johnson, who has brain damage and cerebral palsy, more than $23 million due to disfigurement, pain and suffering, emotional distress, lost earnings and medical care expected to be needed in the future.

Advocate Trinity said in a statement to the Tribune: “Our hearts go out to this family. We believe that our clinicians provided excellent care.”

Advocate said it was unable to comment further due to patient privacy and pending litigation.

Johnson’s parents, Alexis Willis and Jernois Johnson Jr., filed the lawsuit in 2020, alleging that their daughter was not delivered quickly or safely enough at the hospital, leading to injuries. Willis went to the Chicago hospital’s emergency department on Jan. 9, 2017, at about 3 p.m., when she was 32 weeks pregnant, saying that her baby was not moving as frequently, and that she’d had a headache, according to the lawsuit.

Preliminary lab results suggested preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication often characterized by persistently high blood pressure, the lawsuit alleged.

Over the next two hours, a fetal heart rate monitor indicated problems with the baby’s heart rate, and Willis had several high blood pressure readings, according to the lawsuit. Na’Jai Johnson’s parents, however, alleged in the lawsuit that a nurse and two doctors failed to properly assess Willis and the baby’s status during labor and delivery; failed to recognize and treat Willis’ preeclampsia quickly enough; and failed to appropriately and quickly respond to the fetal heart rate monitor results, among other allegations.

At 5:13 p.m., the baby’s heart rate dropped, and one of the doctors then decided delivery was necessary, according to the lawsuit.

Na’Jai Johnson was delivered by Caesarean section at 5:38 p.m.

The family alleged in their lawsuit that their daughter’s injuries were caused by negligence.

The $23 million awarded will help pay for the medical care Na’Jai Johnson will need throughout her life, said Mary Koch, an attorney for the family, with the firm Wais, Vogelstein, Forman, Koch, and Norman.

“It is significant for her family and I think it’s also significant because I think any time these cases occur and information is brought to light about negligence, I would hope, in some way, it helps to improve medical care across the board,” Koch said.