A Harris County jury has awarded the family of a girl who suffered permanent brain damage following a dentist visit to get a tooth crowned $95.5 million in damages but rejected the plaintiff’s theory that a pharmacist was responsible for the injuries and instead walloped the dentist — who never appeared at trial.
The parents of 10-year-old Nevaeh Hall, Courissa Clark and Derrick Hall, are unlikely to collect a cent of the judgment against Bethaniel Jefferson, the dentist who had her license revoked by the Texas Dental Board in the wake of the January 2016 incident. Nevaeh Hall’s injuries also led to Jefferson being criminally indicted for injury to a child in 2017. She’s set to stand trial on that charge next month.
“The verdict may do more to protect children than anything else that a jury could do,” the family’s attorney, Jim Moriarty, told The Texas Lawbook. “I really think this is an important issue. Our Medicaid dental system is a cesspool. It is outrageous treatment of our most vulnerable children, and nobody gives a shit.”
The family alleged Jefferson physically restrained their daughter, negligently overdosed her with nitrous oxide and — rather than calling 911 when the child began to convulse or suffer seizures — she made a phone call to a pharmacist asking for advice and was told to administer a medication that made the situation worse. Nevaeh Hall was 4 years old when the lack of oxygen caused her brain damage and now cannot see, speak, walk or eat on her own.
Jefferson’s insurer reached a settlement with the family prior to trial, but she was pulled back into the lawsuit by pharmacist Charlotte M. Smith Brown as a potentially liable party.
The jury heard three days of testimony and deliberated for about five hours before clearing Brown of any wrongdoing and finding Jefferson 100 percent liable on Wednesday evening.
A message left with Brown’s attorney, Shelton Sparks, was not returned Thursday afternoon.
Moriarty has made a career pursuing in court those who he believes are abusing the Medicaid dental system, initiating litigation against Children’s Dental Group of Anaheim, Small Smiles, Kool Smiles and Texas Orthodontics. He believes the same issues he’s uncovered in those lawsuits — overtreatment and poor treatment — is what was happening at Jefferson’s clinic where Nevaeh Hall was injured, Diamond Dental Practice, which focused on treating Medicaid patients.
Despite the fact that the jury disagreed with Moriarty’s theory of the case, that the pharmacist was responsible for the injuries and should have to pay damages, he said he understands how the jurors reached the verdict they did.
“This family will not collect a dime because the jury didn’t hold the pharmacist responsible,” he said, noting he respected the verdict. “The jury, having heard all the evidence about the misconduct of the dentist, was outraged and returned a verdict based on that, and that will send an extraordinarily clear message to every Medicaid dental crook in the country.”
The jury was shown phone record evidence that Jefferson and Brown spent 13 minutes on the phone over the span of four separate phone calls. Brown told jurors she never spoke to Jefferson and never recommended a medication for the child.
Jefferson, who was subpoenaed, never appeared at trial, Moriarty said, speculating she would have pled the Fifth Amendment in response to any questioning in light of her looming criminal trial.
The jury awarded $15 million for past and future pain and anguish, $25 million for past and future physical impairment and $27 million for medical expenses. It also awarded the mother, Clark, $25 million for mental anguish and $3.5 million for medical expenses.
The family was also represented by Katherine McCredy and Andrew Sullo of Sullo & Sullo and Ryan Skiver of The Skiver Law Firm.
The case is Courissa Clark et al. v. CMSB Holdings et al., case number 2017-42116, in the 269th District Court of Harris County.