Cook County taxpayers on the hook for $48 million in Gizzell Ford case
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Gizzell Ford endured months of abuse, privation and fear before her death in 2013. And a $48 million payout, awarded this week by a jury that found that a Stroger Hospital doctor failed to protect the child from her tormentors, but won’t bring the bubbly 8-year-old back to life, a lawyer for the girl’s family said.
Sandra Mercado and her father provided a happy home in the suburbs for “Gizzy,” one where the girl excelled in school. Then, in 2012, the girl’s father, Andre Ford, won custody of the girl in a messy dispute over visitation rights and false allegations that Mercado was homeless.
“Sandra did everything she possibly could to get her daughter back and raise alarms,” said Marty Dolan, the Mercados’ attorney. “This verdict at least shows that the jury thought Gizzell’s life mattered.”
On Wednesday, a jury found that a former Stroger Hospital pediatrician who examined Gizzell roughly eight months after she landed with her father, was negligent for failing to report signs of the abuse inflicted on Gizzell by her father and grandmother. Gizzell was found dead inside the Ford’s squalid apartment in Chicago, her body covered in cuts, bruises and apparent cigarette burns. An autopsy found she had died of strangulation and head trauma.
The former honor student kept a journal during her time with her father and grandmother, with entries tracing the arc of her fear and descent into despair. Just days before her death, she wrote one of her final entries: “I hate this life.”
The state Department of Child and Family Services, which investigated the allegations against Mercado and failed to note Gizzell’s injuries or unsafe conditions in the home Andre Ford shared with his mother, was dismissed from the case, so Cook County will foot the bill. A spokesman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said the office is reviewing its options to appeal the massive judgment.
Not a penny of the award will go to Gizzell’s tormentors, Dolan said. Andre Ford died in 2014 while awaiting trial on murder charges in connection with Gizzell’s death, and earlier this year Helen Ford was sentenced to life in prison.
At least some of the money for the award will come from county tax dollars. Cook County has a self-insurance appropriation in each year’s budget, and amounts greater than that allotment are paid by insurance, spokeswoman Meredith Shiner said.
The doctor who examined Gizzell, Dr. Norell Rosado, has left the county hospital system for a post as Clinical Services Director for the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
“Dr. Norell Rosado is a well-respected, board-certified child abuse pediatrician,” Lurie spokeswoman Julie Pesch wrote in an emailed statement. “His role in the case occurred while he was working at Stroger Hospital of Cook County, prior to coming to Lurie Children’s. Lurie Children’s is not involved in the suit.”