A jury in Houston has determined that the dentist who left a Houston girl with irreversible brain damage should pay her family $95.5 million.
After a three-day trial, the jury found that former dentist Bethaniel Jefferson was negligent in her treatment of Nevaeh Hall, who suffered drug-induced seizures and oxygen deprivation at the Diamond Dental Practice in January 2016.
Hall was 4 years old when Jefferson treated her for a broken tooth. Family attorney Jim Moriarity says Jefferson restrained the girl in a “papoose,” similar to a straight jacket.
“Then the dentist overdoses the kid on a variety of drugs including 70% nitrous oxide. The child has seizures,” said Moriarity, adding that Jefferson already had several run-ins with the state dental board.
Moriarity then alleged that Jefferson called a pharmacist friend who recommended she give the girl Halcion, a powerful sedative. That was the opposite of what Naveah needed, said Moriarity.
“So now you have a child who is not breathing, who is in severe respiratory distress and they give her a depressant,” Moriarity stated.
He said Hall went into convulsions, and the child’s mother was kept away from the girl while she was seizing. The dentist’s office staff called 911 four and a half hours after the visit began.
Moriarity clarified that the $95.5 million is not an award but what the jury assessed as the cost of the damages.
Nevaeh’s family will likely not collect any of the $95.5 million because Jefferson’s malpractice insurance covered only a little over $1 million dollars that the family already collected years ago. They decided not to sue the pharmacist who recommended the additional sedative.
Moriarity suggested that the jury’s decision allowed Hall’s family to receive some justice, and it also sent a message to other dental practices that might be operating carelessly.
“Every Medicaid dental cheat in this country, of which there are many, will get a message that if you harm our children, if you overdose our children, if you kill them, we will hold you accountable,” he said.
“Nevaeh’s family is grateful for the service and attention of the jury,” Moriarty added. “They hope that this verdict will help prevent other families from suffering preventable tragedies like this one.”
In November 2016, the Texas Dental Board revoked Jefferson’s medical license. In 2017, Jefferson was indicted by a Harris County grand jury on charges of intentionally and knowingly by omission causing serious bodily injury to a child by failing to seek and provide adequate medical attention.
Jefferson was also reprimanded for other incidents by the Texas Dental Board in 2005 and 2012. Her criminal trial has not yet started. She faces life in prison if convicted on the felony charge.
Nevaeh, now 10 years old, is conscious, but can no longer see, speak, walk or eat on her own, her family testified in the trial. She requires 24-hour medical care.
“It’s completely unfair,” Nevaeh’s mother, Courissa Clark, told the Houston Chronicle. “She was born normal. To have that taken away by a dental visit. It changed life for all of us.”
On Friday, Clark said that even though her daughter will not receive any of the money the jury valued the case at, she was still glad they had gone through with the trial.
“It was worth it to try to get some justice for what happened,” she said.