Challenging medical malpractice on Guam

FIVE WEEKS OLD: Baby Aiden, the 5-week-old son of Michelle Green and Leonard Quaile, shortly before his death in 2011. The couple is suing TakeCare Insurance for malpractice in relation to the death. Photo courtesy of Michelle Green

A medical malpractice lawsuit has been filed in the District Court of Guam against TakeCare Insurance (which does business as FHP Health Center); Karen Kauffman, an FHP physician’s assistant; and other unnamed individuals. Michelle Lea Green and Leonard Darin Quaile filed a complaint in the federal court claiming the company and Kauffman are responsible for the untimely death of their 5-week-old son, Aiden.

According to court documents, Green and Quaile are seeking general damages for the wrongful death of their son, medical, incidental, funeral expenses, damages for emotional distress, punitive damages for alleged fraudulent acts, as well as costs for arbitration. In a phone interview from Oregon with the Post, Green said, “This is about a healthy baby that died and FHP refuses to investigate or look into his death.”

The couple’s son was born full-term and healthy on Aug. 26, 2011. One month later, Aiden had his four-week, well-baby checkup by a physician and was pronounced in “excellent health.” According to the court filing, on Oct. 1, 2011, the baby began crying unusually, refused to eat, and coughed up a speck of blood. “His breathing developed a rattling, grunting sound” causing Green to take her son to the FHP Urgent Care Center. Green stated that she repeatedly asked that her baby be seen by a doctor as the baby’s breathing was getting louder and his condition rapidly deteriorated. After more than an hour, Kauffman reportedly entered the examination room and checked the baby diagnosing him as having “simple colic.” Green said that despite her pleas, Kauffman refused to call an ambulance to transport the baby to the Guam Memorial Hospital emergency room and alert ER staff that the baby was coming and needed to be seen immediately by a doctor.

Green drove her son to GMH, where he died in her arms within hours while waiting in the emergency room.

“We were begging for them to help us,” Green told the Post. “She (Kauffman) told us he had colic and within a couple of hours he literally turned blue and died.”

An autopsy conducted by Dr. Aurelio Espinola showed that the couple’s baby had slight traces of pneumonia when he died.

Negligence and fraud

The couple is suing FHP for failing to properly treat their son in a timely manner, “deviating from approved medical practices and negligently failing to treat the baby with the degree of skill, diligence and attention used by and expected of clinics and hospitals.”

Additionally, they allege that Kauffman never advised Green that she wasn’t a doctor but was a physician’s assistant when she first examined the baby and that she wasn’t qualified to see a 5-week-old infant.

“FHP was under a duty to provide appropriate and competent treatment,” the couple stated in court filings.

In addition to the emotional distress of losing their child, the couple also accused FHP of fraud and misrepresenting that it has an advanced medical facility providing “expert medical response without delay.”

“It’s never been about getting money, or monetary rewards. We just want answers for our son.”

“It’s never been about getting money, or monetary rewards. We just want answers for our son,” Green said. “It is our sincere hope that our prosecution of this case will prevent another family there from ever having to live through this nightmare.”

Petition for arbitration

The couple had previously filed a petition for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association pursuant to the Guam Medical Malpractice Mandatory Arbitration Act. They were initially told that the defendants would bear all costs for arbitration but were then told the parties would have to share the costs of three different arbitrators and they would need to pay $15,000 in order to even begin the process. Green and Quaile have asked the District Court to review the Mandatory Act as they contend it is “unconstitutional and unreasonably oppressive” and puts victims at an automatic disadvantage. Green said, “Anybody that has a medical malpractice claim … you have to have $10,000 to even get your foot in the door. There has to be accountability. We challenge the constitutionality of the law.”

TakeCare, Kauffman and the other defendants will be given time to file responses with the District Court.