David S. Woodruff, a partner at the Denver-based law firm Hillyard, Wahlberg, Kudla, Sloane & Woodruff, was recently awarded the prestigious “Case of the Year” award by the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. Woodruff received the award in recognition of his success in the case of “Baby Abigael,” a child who suffered life-altering injuries during her birth at a California hospital 12 years ago.
The CTLA presented Woodruff with the 2011 award at the organization’s annual spring dinner, calling the case an example of a “lawyer’s quest to uncover the truth.” The Case of the Year award acknowledges the positive impact that a single legal case can have on correcting injustices, advancing fairness under the law, changing attitudes or providing economic incentives to protect public safety.
In 2000, Rebecca Blasco checked into the hospital of one of the nation’s largest health management organizations, in labor with her first baby. Over her objection, she received multiple doses of a contraction-strengthening “off-label” drug, despite warnings against such use by the Federal Drug Administration as well as the drug manufacturer. The drug, misoprostil, is designed to treat gastrointestinal reflux. It is sometimes used “off-label” by inserting a portion of a tablet to stimulate uterine contractions. In the late 1990s the FDA and the drug’s manufacturer cautioned against this off-label use, due to its association with excessive uterine contractions and fetal injuries.
Nevertheless, the HMO had a policy of using misoprostil off-label, rather than an available FDA-approved medication, in order to save approximately $125 per patient. Baby Abigael ultimately suffered severe brain injury from oxygen deprivation. After four years of litigation, the HMO refused to engage in settlement discussions with Abi Blasco’s family. Woodruff took the case to trial, and approximately two months later the California judge issued an award of nearly $70 million. It is the largest medical malpractice arbitration award in U.S. history.
“Congratulations to David Woodruff on the diligent work he did on behalf of this child and her family,” said John Sadwith, executive director of CTLA. “This kind of justice sends a message to HMOs, and to medical practitioners, that they must be held accountable for making cost-cutting decisions that destroy lives.”
“We are pleased with the result, although it is quite bittersweet,” Woodruff said. “Abi will never have the chance to live a normal life, but this award will at least help protect her and keep her out of the public welfare system. It is appropriate that the HMO will bear the cost of Abi’s injuries.”
Woodruff was also in the news last month in connection with the largest jury verdict ever awarded in Fort Collins, Colo. In that case, Woodruff obtained a verdict of nearly $4 million on behalf of a 34-year-old woman who was paralyzed as a result of a medical error.