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Danville family of brain dead girl sues Oakland hospital

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OAKLAND -- The Danville family of a 21-month-old girl declared brain-dead after surgery filed suit Friday against the Oakland hospital at the center of the Jahi McMath saga, saying that the hospital's doctors botched an attempt to repair their daughter's birth defect, pressured the family to donate the girl's organs as they grieved and lied about an autopsy.

Family and lawyers say Morgan Westhoff's death in January 2013 is further evidence of a pattern at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland of insensitivity and pressure brought against parents who are told that their child has no brain activity after a medical procedure.

Similar claims were first spotlighted in December by the family of McMath, who successfully fought in court to have the 13-year-old brain-dead girl taken to another facility. Four months later, McMath remains on a ventilator and a feeding tube at an undisclosed facility outside California; Morgan's parents accepted her brain death diagnosis and buried their daughter, a decision they said came under pressure from hospital officials.

"They are not as good as they think they are," Morgan's father Wade Westhoff said of the hospital and its doctors. "They make mistakes and that's the truth."

Attorney Bruce Brusavich and Wade and Jennifer Westhoff filed the wrongful death and medical malpractice suit in Alameda County Superior Court on Friday, naming the hospital, and doctors Ziad Saba, James Gregg Helton, Eric Zee and Natalie Z. Cvijanovich as defendants.

The hospital declined to comment on the lawsuit, following its policy not to discuss pending litigation.

The suit seeks damages in excess of the liability limit set at $250,000 in cases where children die while being cared for at a hospital.

Christopher Dolan, the lawyer for the McMath family, said the Westhoff case demonstrates a "culture of pressure and insensitivity" at the children's hospital. The Westhoff family visited the McMath family while Jahi was in the hospital.

"It goes to show the experience that Jahi's family had was not isolated," Dolan said.

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