Seattle, WA, U.S.A. March 8, 2000
After 13 years, justice for boy left brain-damaged after circumcision
Betrayed by doctors and lawyer, family finally wins case
A Washington couple has finally won justice for their son, 13 years after he was left brain-damaged after his circumcision.
When Jacob Sweet was born at Providence Hospital in Anchorage, Alaska, in January 1986, it was a dream come true for his parents. But Beverly and Gary Sweet's dream took a nightmarish turn only nine days later when they took him back to the hospital for treatment of an infected circumcision and the hospital returned a severely brain-damaged and blind child. The nightmare continued for 13 years - but a major settlement was announced today between the family, now of Bothell, Washington, and the Alaska law firm that handled the Sweet's medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and the pediatrician who treated Jacob.
The Sweets were twice forced to fight for their son in court. First, they sought justice from the hospital and doctor who they allege caused Jacob's injuries, and who then "lost" the medical records critical to proving their case. Then, after Alaska lawyer Alan Sherry mishandled that case, they were forced to resort to the courts again.
Seattle attorney Mark Johnson represented the Sweets in the second suit, for legal malpractice, arguing that Sherry had misrepresented himself as a seasoned malpractice lawyer and then failed to argue their case properly.
"This has been tragedy at every turn for this family," Johnson said. "First the healthcare system devastated their child. Then, when they most needed an aggressive, experienced and competent lawyer, an attorney with no malpractice experience misled them and failed to properly [argue] the case. That cost them their opportunity to recover damages from the hospital and the pediatrician."
The Underlying Medical Malpractice Case
The Sweet's tragedy started on January 25, 1986, in Anchorage, Alaska, when they brought nine-day-old Jacob back to Providence Hospital after he exhibited signs of an infected circumcision. [Actually, their tragedy began when they were given the advice that convinced them to agree to have him circumcised. HY] Jacob was admitted to the pediatric ward and had seizures for 24 hours, but their pediatrician, Dr. Daniel Tulip, was absent most of that time and failed to refer Jacob to a neonatologist until after he had suffered brain damage that would leave him physically devastated, developmentally delayed, and utterly dependent for the rest of his life.
[At that trial, Dr Thomas Wiswell, an expert witness for the defendants, argued that Jacob's brain damage could not have resulted from his circumcision, but was probably caused by an unknown virus.]
The Sweet's calamity compounded when the Alaska law firm they hired to try their medical malpractice suit improperly handled the case. Jacob's medical records disappeared shortly after his time in the hospital, suggesting that someone had tried to cover up a negligent act. Sweet's first legal team failed to present this evidence properly. The Sweets lost the suit, and with it, any hope of recovering damages from the hospital.
With mounting medical bills, they hired Mark Johnson to represent them in an action for legal negligence. Legal malpractice cases are difficult to prove, because the plaintiff must not only prove the defendant attorney was negligent, but that the client would have won the case if the attorney had acted differently.
The amount awarded to the Sweets is confidential as part of the settlement agreement.
"This brings some peace of mind to our lives, although we are still convinced that Jacob's doctor and the hospital have never told the truth," said Beverly Sweet. "At least now we can provide for Jacob's medical care and future."