Pregnant Woman Forced to Take Laxatives in Wrongfully Accused Suit

It has been more than 17 years since Janneral Denson was wrongfully accused of smuggling drugs and forced to take strong laxatives while pregnant. She has been fighting for justice since then. She claims invasive procedures used to search her led to the premature birth of her child.

Jackson Memorial Hospital was wrong to prescribe a powerful laxative to a pregnant woman who had been wrongly accused of smuggling drugs into the country from Jamaica in 1997, a Miami-Dade jury has decided.

Denson, 39, and her son Jordan Taylor, 17, were awarded a total of $128,700 in a verdict that laid most of the blame for Denson’s medical ordeal on herself.

At the time, Denson, a South Florida native living in Boynton Beach, testified that U.S. Customs agents detained her at Fort-Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport upon her return from a trip to Jamaica in February 1997. She was questioned, arrested and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital. The agents, who suspected she had ingested bags of drugs to sneak them into the country, took her to Jackson Memorial, where she was handcuffed to a bed and told she could not leave until she “passed three separate drug-free stool samples.”

A doctor prescribed GoLytely, a laxative that had not been tested on pregnant women and was not recommended for their use except when medically necessary, according to their testimony.

Denson said she was told to take the laxative or she would not be able to go home. After she took it, officials acknowledged she had no drugs in her system and released her.

Denson suffered complications after her stay and delivered her son, Jordan, by emergency C-section two weeks later.

The hospital argued that the U.S. Customs Service was to blame for detaining Denson, and that Denson was to blame for failing to seek proper prenatal care both before and after the incident.

The jury agreed with both sides – Denson was found 58 percent responsible for the damages she and her son suffered. Customs was found 12 percent responsible, and the hospital’s share of the blame came to 30 percent. The total amount for damages came to $264,000 for Denson and $165,000 for her son.

The case went to the jury at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday. The verdict was read in court at 9:20 p.m.

The verdict has no impact on the federal government, which was not part of the lawsuit. Denson sued the U.S. Customs Service in federal court at the same time she sued the hospital in state court in the late 1990s. After years of pre-trial motions and appeals, the federal case went before a jury in 2005.

United States District Judge K. Michael Moore ruled in favor of Customs without letting the jury decide, finding that the federal agents had acted with reasonable suspicion. Denson appealed, and after more than four years, ultimately lost.

With the federal case out of the way, the focus then shifted to the case against the hospital. That case first went to trial in November 2012, ending in a mistrial after Dr. John Bennett, Defendant, who had just finished testifying, was overheard in a courthouse hallway discussing the case with an upcoming witness in front of two jurors.

Do you think this is a fair verdict? Although her child did not suffer damages, Denson was wrongly accused of smuggling drugs, taken to a hospital, handcuffed to a bed and forced to ingest questionable substances for a pregnant woman. The laxative was never tested for side affects during pregnancy, which means there was no medical evidence that giving Denson the laxative was an improper act. Is this case a matter of pain and suffering vindication or an example of over zealous law enforcement in action?

Feel free to comment on this blog post. For more information, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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