Malpractice caused $95M in harm to child with brain damage

It should have been a routine dental visit for a decayed tooth. Dental Practice six years ago ended with dental malpractice that left the 4-year-old seriously brain damaged. It left her unable to walk. To talk. To feed herself. To become the teen — and the woman — she would […]

It should have been a routine dental visit for a decayed tooth.

Dental Practice six years ago ended with dental malpractice that left the 4-year-old seriously brain damaged. It left her unable to walk. To talk. To feed herself. To become the teen — and the woman — she would have grown into.

On Wednesday, a jury in Harris County jury found her dentist, Bethaniel Jefferson, negligent for improperly restraining and sedating Nevaeh. The jury tallied the harm to the girl and her family at $95.5 million.

That was the value, they said, of the loss of her mind, the loss of her voice. That was the value of the harm she suffered. Now 10, Nevaeh has gone from a boisterous and playful girl to one who needs 24-hour care. She needs her medicine and pureed meals every three hours. Her mom and grandmother watch anxiously for seizures, and they trade shifts watching her and juggling her various therapy appointments.

“It’s completely unfair,” Nevaeh’s mother, Courissa Clark, said in an interview Friday. “She was born normal. To have that taken away by a dental visit. … It changed life for all of us.”

Courissa Hall and her 10-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Hall at her home on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Houston. 

Courissa Hall and her 10-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Hall at her home on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022 in Houston. 

Karen Warren/Staff photographer

Clark won’t be able to collect on that $95.5 million, however, according to her attorney, James Moriarty. That’s because Jefferson’s malpractice insurance covered only a fraction of that amount.

Still, the jury’s decision was notable, and important — for allowing Hall’s family to go through the legal process and receive a ruling — and to send a message to other dental practices that might be operating carelessly or haphazardly.

“There’s an entire industry of Medicaid dental cheats who operate below the radar,” Moriarty said. “This verdict will send a message: If you abuse our children, we’re going to hold you accountable.”

The verdict is the latest court action against Jefferson, who treated Nevaeh in January 2016 for a broken tooth.

Three hours into Nevaeh’s visit, she suffered a seizure, and her oxygen level and temperature fell dramatically. Prosecutors say it took more than four hours before Jefferson called for medical assistance.

Later in 2016, the Texas Dental Board revoked Jefferson’s dental license. Months later, a grand jury in Harris County indicted her on charges of “intentionally and knowingly by omission causing serious bodily injury to a child by failing to seek and provide adequate medical attention.”

Her criminal case has not yet gone to trial.

In previous court appearances, her criminal defense attorney argued that there is a difference between a mistake and a crime. If convicted of the first-degree felony, Jefferson could face life in prison.

Former Houston dentist Bethaniel Jefferson appears in front of judge Marc Carter in the 228th District Court at the Harris County Courthouse on Monday, July 31, 2017, in Houston. Jefferson was charged with failing to properly treat a sedated 4-year-old patient who was left with permanent brain damage during a routine procedure. She was indicted by a Harris County grand jury on a felony charge of causing serious bodily injury to a child by omission. ( Godofredo A. Vasquez / Houston Chronicle )

Former Houston dentist Bethaniel Jefferson appears in front of judge Marc Carter in the 228th District Court at the Harris County Courthouse on Monday, July 31, 2017, in Houston. Jefferson was charged with failing to properly treat a sedated 4-year-old patient who was left with permanent brain damage during a routine procedure. She was indicted by a Harris County grand jury on a felony charge of causing serious bodily injury to a child by omission. ( Godofredo A. Vasquez / Houston Chronicle )

Godofredo A. Vasquez, Houston Chronicle

On Friday, Clark said that even though her daughter won’t receive any of the money the jury valued the case at, she was still glad they’d gone through with the trial.

“It was worth it to try to get some justice for what happened,” she said as her younger daughter, A’layah, bounced in her lap.

Moments later, she walked into Nevaeh’s room, where her oldest sat in a crib among stuffed teddy bears. Medical instruments beeped. After that dental visit, Nevaeh had to spend months at a Houston rehabilitation hospital. Now, Clark juggles shifts at her job at the U.S. Postal Service with watching over her daughter. Nevaeh’s grandmother watches the two girls when Clark is at work.

On Friday, she tended to her daughter, injecting some water into a stomach tube, to follow the food she’d been given for lunch.

After Nevaeh’s injuries, Clark found herself wondering if the girl had understood what had happened to her. If Nevaeh knew who she was. Clark looks for glimmers of her daughter’s old personality. The girl still likes to laugh. She likes attention. She likes to be read to.

Clark tries to treat her as if she were another 10-year-old girl. But Nevaeh’s life is forever changed.

In some moments, Clark wonders about Jefferson’s coming criminal trial. 

Nevaeh, she said, will have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. When Clark thinks about that, she thinks about Jefferson.

“She should spend the rest of her life in jail,” she said.

Next Post

The controversial embryo tests that promise a better baby

Sun Sep 25 , 2022
“She has her mother’s eyes,” begins the advertisement, “but will she also inherit her breast cancer diagnosis?” The smooth voice in the video is promoting the services of Genomic Prediction, a US company that says it can help prospective parents to answer this question by testing the genetics of embryos […]
The controversial embryo tests that promise a better baby