Settlement reached in Avoca mother’s lawsuit against Geisinger

By Joe Dolinsky - | July 7th, 2016 5:52 pm

SCRANTON — An Avoca mother’s malpractice case against a local hospital and its doctors will not be heard before a Lackawanna County jury after the parties agreed Wednesday to an undisclosed settlement.

Jackie Hufford, of Davidson Street, filed the lawsuit in June 2013 on behalf of her then-infant son, Christopher, who she claimed developed meningitis and suffered permanent brain damage after doctors at the Community Medical Center (CMC) in 1997 failed to timely diagnose his symptoms. The case was scheduled for trial Monday.

Jackie Hufford told the Times Leader last week the lawsuit was filed to preserve the statute of limitations in the matter, a two-year time frame that typically begins running when a child turns 18. Christopher, who was 10 months old at the time of the alleged negligence, turned 20 in June.

The 59-page complaint alleged the boy’s injuries could have been avoided if not for the “gross negligence” of the defendants, a group that includes Geisinger Health System, CMC, the former Mercy Hospital, and CMC Drs. Lewis C. Druffner Jr. and Anthony L. Chiavacci. Geisinger and CMC merged in 2012.

In a statement, Geisinger expressed satisfaction with the case’s outcome.

“While CMC was fully prepared to defend this case, we are pleased that a settlement has been reached,” said Donna Rae, Geisinger Health System’s Associate Chief Legal Officer of Litigation Services.

Joseph T. Healey, the Scranton attorney listed as counsel for Mercy Health Partners, did not return a message Thursday seeking comment.

Jackie Hufford, a single mom, said her full-time job is taking care of her son, who functions at the level of a kindergartner and is dependent on her for nearly all of his day-to-day needs, including brushing his teeth and cutting his food.

The struggles Christopher faces and will continue to endure for the rest of his life were the result of the medical care he received in 1997, the family’s attorney, Matt Casey, alleged in court documents filed in the case.

“Christopher’s medical team discounted and flat out ignored his grossly abnormal laboratory results and clinical symptoms that was objective evidence of a brewing serious bacterial infection … (the team) misled Christopher’s mother to believe he had a simple ear infection or respiratory infection and falsely reassured her that this was a minor illness,” he wrote.

Casey, of Philadelphia law firm Ross Feller Casey, said he was unable to comment further when reached Thursday.

According to the complaint, Christopher’s symptoms at CMC on April 6, 1997, and subsequent lab results were indicative of “an advancing infection,” but doctors put him at risk of developing meningitis by failing to perform an evaluation that could have ruled it out.

Two days after he was released with a dehydration diagnosis, Jackie Hufford was ordered to bring Christopher to Druffner’s offices after she noticed stiffness in his arms and saw his eyes rolling back in his head, according to the complaint.

There, Christopher suffered a seizure and was taken to CMC’s emergency department where an examining doctor’s opinion noted “probable meningitis,” the complaint says.

Christopher, according to the complaint, was transported via helicopter to a children’s hospital in Philadelphia, where he was fed through a tube, suffered seizures and required drains to reduce the pressure on his brain until he was discharged to the rehabilitation unit of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center three weeks later. He has been in and out of hospitals since.

Jackie Hufford could not be reached Thursday for comment on the settlement.

Christopher Hufford colors while his mother, Jackie, looks on. The family settled a lawsuit with Geisinger Health Systems for an undisclosed amount on Wednesday. Hufford colors while his mother, Jackie, looks on. The family settled a lawsuit with Geisinger Health Systems for an undisclosed amount on Wednesday.

By Joe Dolinsky

Reach Joe Dolinsky at 570-991-6110 or on Twitter @JoeDolinskyTL