Crime & Courts

Wichita family awarded record $6.5 million verdict in teacher’s death after childbirth

A jury has awarded a Wichita man and his 3-year-old son a $6.55 million wrongful death verdict — the largest in Kansas history — against Wesley Medical Center in connection with the death of the man’s wife, who died at the hospital hours after giving birth.

The jury verdict handed down Tuesday splits the judgment between Edgar Perez and his son Zander. They’re the survivors of Lindsay Perez, a popular drama teacher who taught at Stucky Middle School.

The lawsuit named Wesley, its parent company, Health Corporation of America, and nine physicians. A Wesley spokesman did not return a phone message seeking comment.

The lawsuit is one of the first major court cases to be decided since the Kansas Supreme Court struck down a state law that capped some of the damages that can be awarded by a jury.

Edgar Perez said the hospital didn’t adequately care for his wife and ignored signs she was in deep distress during and after the birth of their son on Oct. 8, 2015.

Doctors diagnosed Lindsay Perez with preeclampsia, a dangerous and potentially deadly complication of pregnancy that can cause a spike in blood pressure and damage organs such as the liver and kidneys. They first tried to induce labor but ultimately delivered Zander by Caesarean section, Perez said.

He said his wife went through a period of temporary blindness during delivery and never got to see her son, who was taken to intensive care because the birth was premature at 35 weeks.

After the birth, “they took us back to a recovery delivery room which was just like a normal room,” he said. “After she had the episode I thought she was going to go to intensive care or something . . . but no, they took us to a regular room.”

Perez took pictures of Zander, which he showed to his wife after she had regained her sight. “Her reaction was closing her fist and saying, ‘Score!’’ he said.

Perez said his wife then asked him to go home and get some of her personal items because it appeared she’d be in the hospital longer than they thought.

He said when he returned, she’d been given a breathing mask and was coughing up fluid. “You could hear she was choking in her own fluid,” he said. “And that’s when she coded.”

Nurses came running and ordered the family to leave the room. “Minutes later, they came and told us that she was gone,” Perez said.

Brad Prochaska, who represented the Perezes in the court case, said the medical personnel had administered a large quantity of intravenous fluids during her hospitalization.

“The nurse negligently failed to call the doctor and say ‘hey, the fluid’s getting in her lungs,’” Prochaska said. “You can’t breathe well and she died of asphyxiation in a matter of a couple hours.”

Attorneys for the hospital argued that Lindsay Perez had a pre-existing arterial blockage and had actually died from a heart attack that was beyond their control.

Prochaska said the verdict is the largest monetary award for a wrongful death in state history.

Jurors awarded $5.05 million in economic damages and $1.5 million in non-economic damages.

Prochaska said it will probably go to the state Supreme Court before it’s through.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law capping non-economic damages for pain and suffering at $325,000 was unconstitutional.

The jury in the Perez case awarded $500,000 to the estate of Lindsay Perez for what she suffered through during her hospitalization. That part of it is no longer subject to a cap, Prochaska said.

However, the jury also awarded $1 million in non-economic damages for grief and bereavement experienced by her husband and son.

Prochaska said although it’s a similar issue, bereavement damages weren’t a part of the Supreme Court case decided in June, so those are still subject to a cap of $250,000 in state law.

He said he plans to challenge the constitutionality of that cap in the Supreme Court.

Perez said watching the trial and reliving his wife’s death over and over was difficult, but the verdict gives him some sense of closure.

Although he and his wife both have family in Wichita and they help out, his son is still growing up without a mother.

“So now I have an angel, Zander,” he said. “She left me a kid. That was her biggest wish in life, being a mother.”

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.