Chandler resident Krystal Griepentrog had waited nine years for Banner Health to be held accountable for what happened to her son during childbirth.
When the deciding moment came, she would have to wait some more.
Last month, a jury found in favor Griepentrog and gave her the largest medical malpractice award in Arizona history: $31,550,825.
“I was watching the video,” attorney Brian Snyder recalled. “I remember sitting there, when the jury foreperson handed it to the clerk, who hands it to the judge. He reads it, then he hands it to the clerk to read the verdict.
“She paused for so long. I remember sitting there in the courtroom, how long it was. But watching it over again, it was even longer. I got nervous a second time – and I knew what happened.”
Snyder and his colleagues from Dordick Law Corp. claimed that Banner and its employee, Dr. Laurie P. Erickson, were negligent in the labor and delivery of Griepentrog’s son, Greyson.
Specifically, they claimed he suffered oxygen deprivation during the birth, which resulted in cerebral palsy.
Banner, as it has done from the start, denied responsibility.
“We strongly disagree with the verdict,” Becky Armendariz wrote in an email statement. She is Banner’s associate vice president of marketing and public relations.
“We are reviewing our options at this time, including the potential filing of post-trial motions and an appeal,” Armendariz said.
Griepentrog said she’s just happy this is almost over.
“Overall, relief and happiness, knowing that my son will have the resources he needs to have the best quality life,” she said.
One of the keys during the trial is that Banner admitted losing critical fetal heart monitoring medical records. The medical center’s attorneys then argued to the jury that it would be impossible for the plaintiff to prove her case without the records they lost.
“What I think it did do was it gave this air of uncertainty with everything the hospital was saying,” Snyder said of the impact of those lost records.
“How can you prove what your defenses are when you’ve lost these strips? How can you say the strips would support it when we know that there are errors in the medical records? I think that’s where it permeated and made the difference.”
Griepentrog said she knew something was wrong right away.
“I had a practically perfect pregnancy,” she said of the birth of her first child. “I thought it was time to go, so we went the morning of May 31. My contractions weren’t strong enough, so they sent me home. But, everything looked great.
“We went back a couple hours later and it was time. I labored for a really long time. Throughout the course of the day, nurses would run into the room. They would flip me, they would put a peanut ball between my legs, they put oxygen (on). It’s really scary for me because the baby’s heart rate was dropping.
“I trusted that I was in the right care and that they knew what they were doing,” she continued. “But after 16 hours Greyson was born with a very low Apgar score. I mean, he was barely alive.”
The jury assigned 57% of the blame to Banner Health, and 43% to Erickson. Snyder said they initially offered to settle for $7 million, but Banner never considered it.
“What is so frustrating from how Banner has handled this from the get-go, is that they have always been denying responsibility from the beginning,” Snyder said.
“‘We didn’t do anything wrong!’ When all the experts said they did, ‘We didn’t do anything wrong.’”
Snyder said he has no idea what Banner could possibly appeal in this case.
If it wanted to try to settle at this point, Snyder said under Arizona law the medical center must settle for no less than halfway between the initial settlement offer of $7 million and the $31.5 million jury award.
“They have a chance now to do the right thing after all these years,” Snyder said. “It doesn’t seem like they’re going to take it. They’ve dug in their heels on this one. There was really no reason to.”
Snyder wanted to make one point clear:
“What’s really important about these lawsuits is that none of these nurses wanted this to happen. None of these doctors wanted this to happen. No one is saying they’re bad people. No one is saying they’re bad doctors or nurses. This is an institutional problem.”
Griepentrog said the focus now, as always, is on her son.
“Greyson has challenges that the normal 9-year-old boy shouldn’t have. He can’t get dressed by himself. He can’t walk independently. He relies on … a caregiver to help him from the time he wakes up till the time he goes to bed at night.
“Money or not, I’m going to do whatever I can to give Greyson the best care. That’s been my mindset from day one. I’ll do whatever I need to be able to give him tools, equipment, therapies.”
Written by Ken Sain, Managing Editor for SanTan Sun News ~ December 3, 2023