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On February 8th, 2024, in a historic jury verdict, Seattle Children’s Hospital was held responsible for exposing two babies and an eleven-year-old to aspergillus fungus in the operating room during heart surgery. These three cases are the first of more than seventy additional plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit that was certified in King County Superior Court. The class is for children who had to take preventative anti-fungal medication and testing because of the negligent exposure.

Prior to trial, Seattle Children’s Hospital, not wanting to explain how deadly aspergillus fungus got into its operating room air handling, admitted that it was negligent – meaning that it fell below the standard of reasonably careful and prudent hospital. The jury was not allowed to hear any evidence about Seattle Children’s negligence or the extent of the aspergillus contamination or the numbers of other children in this class action or the decades of history leading up to this latest deadly outbreak.

“It took years of litigation for the hospital to finally take the blame,” said Andrew Ackley, Stritmatter attorney representing the families. “This class action and this trial are about taking responsibility, even where children did not suffer the worst possible outcomes. This is part of the march toward full accountability, and preventing this type of negligence from affecting any more families.”

These families should be commended for standing up for the other 50-200 children who, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital’s head of infection control, were exposed to Aspergillus in the operating room in 2019. It was uncomfortable for them as they were so grateful to the surgeons who saved their children’s lives – not knowing that the operating rooms they were working in were dangerous.

In this trial, the jury was prohibited from considering the hospital’s delays and mishandling of parent notifications about the exposure, as well as the parents’ own anger, betrayal, and terror that their children could die from an invasive aspergillus infection in their heart. The court also dismissed during trial the claims of a newborn infant who was exposed to aspergillus and underwent treatment. Her mother testified she was never told about the aspergillus treatment when it happened, so she had no way of knowing how her newborn daughter suffered. The court found there was no evidence that the child and the mother had been injured.

In closing argument, the hospital claimed its negligence in exposing children to aspergillus during open heart surgery caused no harm—the children took anti-fungal medication for a few days to a month, and were undergoing treatment anyway. The hospital suggested damages awards of $10,000 to $20,000 at most.

Jury Verdict:

1. $100,000 for the Lukas/Mills family
2. $100,000 for the Kaplan family
3. $15,000 for V.A.

Trial Counsel

The trial counsel was Karen Koehler, Andrew Ackley, Shannon Kilpatrick, Debbie Silberman of Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore, and John Layman of the Layman Law Firm. Paralegals were Debra Watt and Cheryl Baldwin.

Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore (The Stritmatter Firm) is a nationally recognized firm known for representing victims of wrongful death, serious personal injuries, and civil rights lawsuits.