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Suburban woman, son win $53M verdict from U of C hospital

Lisa Ewing speaks alongside her son, Isaiah, and attorney Geoffrey Fieger during a news conference at the Peninsula Hotel Thursday.

Lisa Ewing speaks alongside her son, Isaiah, and attorney Geoffrey Fieger during a news conference at the Peninsula Hotel Thursday. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

A south suburban woman whose son was born with cerebral palsy joined her lawyer Thursday in blasting the University of Chicago Medical Center’s handling of the case a day after winning a $53 million medical malpractice verdict.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said medical staff at the hospital didn’t recognize signs that Lisa Ewing’s baby was slowly being deprived of oxygen during the 12 hours she waited to see a doctor. By the time they performed a C-section, it was too late.

The medical residents “were either busy, asleep or just totally unable to handle anything that resembled an emergency,” Fieger said at a news conference Thursday at the Peninsula Hotel.

“I thought that they knew what they were doing,” Ewing said Thursday while her son, Isaiah, who was born in 2004, sat in a wheelchair beside her.

“I was very surprised in trial how they just had no remorse for anything, and the different lies they were telling,” said Ewing, who lives in Hickory Hills.

A Cook County jury awarded Ewing and her son $53 million after deliberating about four hours Wednesday following a trial that lasted nearly a month. It is the second-largest medical malpractice award in Cook County, according to the Jury Verdict Reporter.

In a statement Thursday, the hospital maintained Isaiah and his mother were treated for infection, and infection is a recognized cause of cerebral palsy.

“We have great sympathy for Isaiah Ewing and his family. We strongly disagree with the jury’s verdict, and believe Mr. Fieger’s conduct influenced the decision,” the hospital said.

Attorneys for the hospital have sought a mistrial that would negate the verdict on grounds that Fieger “shattered the line between zealous advocacy and improper prejudicial statements” by, in part, equating the “defendants conduct and the testimony of its witnesses with the propaganda technique notoriously and unmistakably associated with Nazi Germany,” according to a motion filed with Cook County Circuit Judge John P. Kirby, who oversaw the trial.

Fieger denied making the comparison. “I could try this case another 100 times, and the result would be the same,” he said.

Fieger said University of Chicago’s doctors concluded Isaiah’s brain injury had been caused by hypoxia — a lack of oxygen — but the hospital’s lawyers told the jury that an infection was to blame.

“They never sat down with Lisa to explain what really happened,” Fieger said. Ewing did not contact a lawyer until 2012, he said.

Fieger said the $53 million award is the estimated cost of 24-hour-a-day care for Isaiah’s lifetime.

“It’s a blessing to know that when I’m no longer here, he will be cared for,” Ewing said.

“They refused to accept responsibility,” Fieger said of the hospital. “The evidence was overwhelming, but they insisted on going to trial, never attempting to resolve this case.”