Valley MEdical ordered to pay Burien couple $50 million

Valley Medical Center - File Photo.
Valley Medical Center
— image credit: File Photo.

Valley Medical Center and a national medical laboratory are considering whether to appeal a jury’s verdict to award $50 million to a Burien couple whose son was born with a genetic defect.

There was reason for Brock and Rhea Wuth’s concern.

Brock Wuth’s cousin was born with the genetic defect, known as unbalanced chromosome translocation, and testing showed that he also carried the chromosomes that are essentially in the wrong place.

There was a 50-50 chance he could pass on the defect to his children. The Wuth’s son Ian was born with normal chromosomes in 2002, before Wuth was tested.

“They were lucky,” said their attorney, Todd Gardner of Renton, in an interview.

Taking no chances and on the advice of their obstetrician, the Wuths went to Valley Medical Center in 2007 for genetic testing of the fetus while the pregnancy was still in the first trimester, according to Gardner

Tests showed the unborn child was normal, but when Oliver was born at Highline Hospital in July 2008, he had major mental and physical disabilities. The sophisticated test that would have shown Oliver carried the flawed chromosomes hadn’t been done, according to Gardner.

In a statement following the jury verdict, Valley Medical Center expressed “its sincere and heartfelt sympathies to the entire family for what they are dealing with now and in the days ahead. Notwithstanding this unfortunate result, we continue to believe that the staff of Valley Medical Center’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic acted appropriately and continue to provide high quality care to our patients and their families.”

Gardner argued in a weeks-long trial in King County Superior Court that the genetic-counseling unit at Valley’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Clinic was understaffed and not properly supervised.

Valley Medical Center ordered the right test but didn’t provide the lab with the necessary information that would tell the lab where to look for the abnormal chromosomes, he said. And the lab, Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) of North Carolina, didn’t follow its own procedures that call for asking for any missing information, he said.

A standard genetic test was done and Valley didn’t catch the error, he said.

A King County Superior Court jury on Dec. 10 awarded the $50 million, to be paid equally by Valley Medical and LabCorp. Gardner said an appeal is almost certain, which likely will happen by mid-February. The appeal could take two years, he said.

LabCorp began providing genetic testing for Valley Medical in January 2005.

In its statement Valley indicated that “out of respect for the parties involved as well as the process, we will withhold comment on the particulars of this case until we have an opportunity to discuss the next steps with legal counsel.”

In its statement Laboratory Corporation of America indicated “we believe the facts and the law do not support the verdict. LabCorp acted properly and diligently in performing the test that was ordered by the physician. We will consider all available options, including post-trial motions and appeal, if necessary.”

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