By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — A Wayne County Circuit Court unanimously awarded more than $3 million to Mariah Martinez, 26, who was misdiagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 9.
The jury’s June 24 conclusion said Dr. Yasser Awaad was negligent and that Oakwood Healthcare — now Beaumont Health — was also negligent in its hiring and its supervision of the pediatric neurologist.
Attorney Brian McKeen of McKeen & Associates said Awaad prematurely ordered electroencephalogram tests for Martinez, made the diagnosis and prescribed her anti-seizure medication from 2003 to 2007.
“Awaad clearly was looking for excuses to order EEGs that his business plan required him to do,” McKeen told The Associated Press.
After those four years, another doctor determined Martinez’s tests were normal in 2007. Martinez recalled being withdrawn as a child and teased by other kids because the epilepsy label limited her physical activities at school, according to the AP.
“I’m definitely satisfied. There’s a big weight off my shoulders,” Martinez told the AP. “It’s something that has haunted me.”
Defense attorney Harry Sherbrook told jurors that Awaad’s diagnosis involved more than EEG tests that were misinterpreted, the AP reported. He added that it was “outrageous and preposterous” to claim Awaad and Oakwood intentionally harmed Martinez.
“Her symptoms were consistent with epilepsy,” Sherbrook said, noting that Martinez was daydreaming and zoning out.
According to the AP, much of the verdict — $2.8 million — was for non-economic damages, such as suffering, distress and humiliation, but that the award will likely be reduced because it exceeds a cap of $465,900 under Michigan Law.
Attorneys for Martinez sought more than $8 million when the lawsuit was filed in 2008.
“We believe patients were treated appropriately and disagree with allegations of improper oversight of Dr. Awaad by Oakwood Healthcare,” Beaumont Health Media Relations Director Mark Geary told the AP.
Oakwood also was accused of ignoring complaints about the doctor especially from another physician, Dr. Susan Youngs, who was uncomfortable with Awaad’s repeated use of EEG tests and regular diagnoses of epilepsy in children, according to the AP.
In 2007, Awaad no longer practiced at Oakwood.
“Experts who testified in the case all agreed that had Awaad been investigated early on it would have been apparent that he was systematically labeling normal EEGs as showing evidence of seizure activity,” McKeen said in a news release. “If the administration had done their duty, hundreds of children would not have been mistreated at his hands.”
Martinez’s case was the first to go to trial and McKeen and the team at McKeen & Associates represent more than 250 former patients with similar cases or claims.
Beaumont Health plans to appeal the decision, but an appeal date has not been set yet.
“While we respect the jury’s verdict, we disagree with the outcome and will appeal this decision,” a statement read. “The litigation involving Dr. Yasser Awaad, and Oakwood Healthcare, dates back more than a decade to 2007. While we cannot comment about the specifics of this case because of other pending legal proceedings and patient privacy laws, we believe patients were treated appropriately and disagree with allegations of improper oversight of Dr. Awaad by Oakwood Healthcare.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)