After more than five years of waiting for their lawsuit against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital to reach court, the Kowalski family finally got closure Thursday after a jury awarded them more than $261 million in damages and interests.
In a case that has garnered attention across the country, in part because of a Netflix film released in June 2023 about the Kowalskis’ story, attorneys for both sides argued that it was a matter between the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children. and defending mandatory reporters when suspicions of child abuse arise.
The Kowalskis initially sued All Children’s Hospital, social worker Catherine Bedy and former Pinellas County Child Welfare Team medical director Dr. Sally Smith more than a year after Beata Kowalski committed suicide following child abuse allegations against her that spanned 10 years of separation. -old Maya from her family following a request for refuge.
The family took Maya to All Children’s Hospital in October 2016 due to severe stomach upset that they believed was caused by a relapse of Maya’s chronic regional pain syndrome, a disorder that impairs the central nervous system and increases pain sensations.
In case you missed it: The verdict is in, the jury makes a decision
“About sending a message”: Jury decides punitive damages in ‘Take Care of Maya’ case
Hospital staff began to suspect possible child abuse after observing what many said were inconsistencies between Maya’s behaviors and her condition. Staff called the abuse hotline, marking the start of a more than three-month ordeal for the Kowalski family that has haunted them ever since.
Smith and his employer, Suncoast Center, Inc., settled $2.5 million with the family before the trial, according to media reports, and the family decided to remove Bedy from the trial days after the selection process began. jury, on a strategic basis. focus on the hospital.
Understanding the two-phase verdict
On Thursday, the six-person jury of two men and four women found the hospital liable for seven different claims, including false imprisonment, battery, medical negligence, fraudulent billing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and than a survivor. a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and a wrongful death claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress causing death.
When the jury first decided the verdict and the amount to be awarded to the family, it was compensatory damages, meaning money awarded to compensate for damages, injuries and other losses incurred, such as future loss of wages.
The jury also decided to award the family punitive damages for two claims – false imprisonment and battery – which are awarded to a plaintiff in order to punish a defendant for egregious acts and deter him from taking such actions. same way in the future.
The jury then heard arguments for punitive damages Thursday afternoon and, after less than an hour of deliberation, returned with a verdict that the hospital, through clear and convincing evidence, had the he specific intent to harm Maya and that his conduct had in fact harmed her, granting the sentence. family, an additional $50 million.
More Test Coverage: Defense Rests, Maya Resumes Position Before Case Goes to Jury
More: ‘Take Care of Maya’ trial: Jury deliberations begin in months-long trial
Breakdown of the total amount awarded for damages
Of all the claims awarded to the Kowalskis, the highest amount the jury awarded in total was $50 million to Jack Kowalski for damages he suffered for the loss of his wife’s companionship and protection and for his pain and suffering resulting from the death of Beata. .
The second highest award by the jury was $22 million to Maya Kowalski for damages for pain and suffering, physical disability or impairment, mental anguish, inconvenience, aggravation of physical disease or defect and loss of ability to enjoy life suffered in the past and which will continue in the future under the medical negligence claim.
The lowest amount awarded was for a portion of the battery claim, in which the jury awarded $1,000 as a reasonable value or expense for the hospitalization and medical, psychological and nursing care and treatment obtained by Jack Kowalski for his daughter, in the past. or to be obtained in the future until Maya is 18, based on Bedy’s hugging, patting, kissing, and placing Maya Kowalski on his lap.
Regarding punitive damages, the jury awarded Maya Kowalski $15 million for false imprisonment between October 7 and 13, 2016, $10 million for false imprisonment between October 18 and 20, 2016, and $25 million dollars for false imprisonment and assault in January. June 6, 2017.
Looking Ahead: What to Expect Once the Trial is Over
Although the trial ended Thursday, the case is not yet over as the hospital’s defense indicated it will appeal the case “based on the clear and prejudicial errors throughout the trial and the willful conduct of plaintiff’s counsel in misleading the jury.” ” Howard Hunter, the hospital’s lead attorney, said in a statement.
Greg Anderson, the family’s attorney, indicated he wasn’t too concerned about the appeal when he spoke to the media Thursday evening. He knew this was coming and said he hoped the hospital would reconsider taking the family through the appeals process.
Anderson also hinted that he would file a second complaint related to the sexual abuse allegations made during the trial by Maya Kowalski. A criminal complaint will most likely also be filed, Anderson said.
It is not yet clear when Anderson plans to file a second lawsuit.
Gabriela Szymanowska covers the legal system for the Herald-Tribune in partnership with Report for America. You can support his work by making a tax-deductible donation to Report for America. Contact Gabriela Szymanowska at [email protected], or at Twitter.