By Aaron Humes
On Thursday morning, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) found against obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Raju Meenavalli and in favour of Roaring Creek student Janae Matute, 13, and her mother Georgia, ending a 13-year saga in which the doctor was accused of medical malpractice.
CCJ judges Rolston Nelson, Adrian Saunders, Winston Anderson, David Hayton and Jacob Wit found that Dr. Meenavalli, then working at the Western Regional Hospital, erred both in his general standard of care and specialized practice.
The doctor, in a finding initially made by former Supreme Court Justice Samuel Awich and upheld by the Belize Court of Appeal, misled himself as to the date of Janae’s delivery, refused to correct his error on multiple occasions and eventually delivered Janae, now a Belmopan Comprehensive School student, prematurely at 36 weeks, causing her to suffer moderate asphyxia of the brain at birth and ultimately cerebral palsy, which now confines her to a wheelchair.
Georgia Matute was to have delivered Janae in February of 2001 after finding that she was approximately two months along from her last menstrual period date in April of 2000.
However, Dr. Meenavalli erroneously recorded a date of menstruation and confinement of one month earlier and consistently changed the records to reflect his error, even after being presented with a second opinion from the La Loma Luz hospital.
Justice Awich initially awarded some $2.5 million to Janae, covering everything from present expenses to future earning, and another $680,000 to her mother for her expenses in caring for Janae. At the Court of Appeal, Janae’s award was reduced to just under $1.5 million, based on a recalculation of her future earnings. The CCJ made no mention of the award in its judgment, essentially confirming that it stands.
The CCJ judges disagreed that there were multiple causes for Janae’s condition and multiple persons responsible, holding that Dr. Raju alone made the decisions which led to Janae’s birth and condition even with the benefit of a second opinion.
Godfrey Smith SC and Leslie Mendez appeared for Dr. Raju, who must pay costs, and Fred Lumor SC for the Matutes. The Government was a party in the lower court cases but dropped out after losing the cross-appeal filed by Lumor which made it equally liable for the damages.