On July 18, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed a defense jury verdict and ordered a new trial for our clients, Jessica and Joseph Huett, on behalf of their son. The Court ruled that defense biomechanical engineering expert, Michele Grimm, PhD, was not qualified to offer an opinion on what caused baby Huett’s injuries at birth.
Ms. Huett was treated throughout her pregnancy by Dr. Kent Branson of St. Louis, Missouri. On April 9, 2019, Dr. Branson induced Huett’s labor. Ms. Huett pushed for three hours without success. So, Dr. Branson used a vacuum extractor to pull the baby further down the birth canal. The baby’s head was soon delivered, but his right shoulder was stuck behind his mother’s pubic bone. Efforts to dislodge the baby were unsuccessful. A second doctor ultimately performed an episiotomy so a third doctor could reach in and pull baby Huett free. Ms. Huett’s son was stuck for five minutes and suffered a right brachial plexus causing permanent paralysis of his right arm.
Defendants’ key expert was biomechanical engineer Michele Grimm, PhD. Dr. Grimm testified that the baby’s injuries were due to maternal forces, in other words the natural forces a mother applies during birth. Dr. Grimm based her opinion on a computer simulation she developed that simulates the effects of natural forces in birth. Dr. Grimm does not have a medical degree, has never delivered a baby, or observed the delivery of a baby in person. Dr. Grimm could not testify as to the exact value of forces applied in the delivery.
Ultimately, Judge Torbitzky of the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri, writing for the three-judge panel, ruled that Dr. Grimm was qualified to give general opinions that maternal forces of labor can cause injury in certain situations, but could not testify to the cause of baby Huett’s injuries in his particular birth. The Missouri Court of Appeals found Dr. Grimm’s specific causation opinions lacked the requisite qualifications and reliability Missouri law requires. Importantly, Dr. Grimm’s expertise did not include identifying which babies have tissue vulnerable to brachial plexus injury. The Court determined Dr. Grimm’s opinion applied speculative, circular logic. Her opinion that baby Huett was more susceptible to brachial plexus injury was based solely on the fact that he incurred the injury.
Because Dr. Grimm’s testimony was the only specific evidence the defense offered that the injury to baby Huett was caused by natural maternal forces, the trial court’s error in permitting the jury to hear that testimony prejudiced our client at trial. The Missouri Court of Appeals has ordered the Huetts receive a new trial consistent with its ruling.
“We are honored to have the trust of our clients as we continue to fight for justice for their son, even post-verdict,” said Erica Slater of The Simon Law Firm, P.C., lead trial counsel for the Huetts. “I am always inspired by the bravery and resolve of my clients as we navigate the legal system together to seek the best outcome for their case. The Huetts are no exception.”
Erica B. Slater is an attorney at The Simon Law Firm, P.C. specializing in birth injury litigation, NICU injuries, trucking/commercial motor vehicle accidents, and product liability cases. If you or a loved one was injured by another’s negligence, contact us for a free case evaluation.