Malpractice caused $95 million in damage to child with brain damage

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It should have been a routine dental visit for a decayed tooth.

The dental practice six years ago ended in a dental malpractice that severely damaged the 4-year-old’s brain. This made her unable to walk. Talk. To feed onself. To become the teenager – and the woman – that she would have become.

On Wednesday, a Harris County jury found her dentist, Bethaniel Jefferson, negligent for improperly restraining and sedating Nevaeh. The jury assessed the damage caused to the girl and her family at $95.5 million.

It was the value, they said, of the loss of his mind, the loss of his voice. It was the value of the harm she had suffered. Now 10, Nevaeh has gone from a loud and playful girl to one who needs round-the-clock care. She needs her meds and pureed meals every three hours. Her mother and grandmother anxiously watch for seizures, and they trade shifts watching her and juggling her various therapy appointments.

“It’s completely unfair,” Nevaeh’s mother, Courissa Clark, said in an interview on Friday. “She was born normal. To have that taken away by a visit to the dentist. … It was life changing for all of us.”

Courissa Hall and her 10-year-old daughter, Nevaeh Hall, at her home Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Houston.

Karen Warren/staff photographer

However, Clark will not be able to collect that $95.5 million, according to his attorney, James Moriarty. This is because Jefferson’s malpractice insurance only covered a fraction of that amount.

Still, the jury’s decision was notable and important — to allow Hall’s family to go through the court process and receive a decision — and to send a message to other dental practices who may be operating negligently or at the chance.

“There’s a whole industry of Medicaid dental cheaters operating under the radar,” Moriarty said. “This verdict will send a message: if you abuse our children, we will hold you accountable.”

The verdict is the latest legal action against Jefferson, who treated Nevaeh in January 2016 for a broken tooth.

Three hours into Nevaeh’s visit, she suffered a seizure, and her oxygen level and temperature dropped dramatically. Prosecutors say it took more than four hours before Jefferson called for medical assistance.

Later in 2016, the Texas Dental Board revoked Jefferson’s dental license. Months later, a Harris County grand jury charged her with “intentionally and knowingly causing by omission grievous bodily harm to a child by failing to seek and provide adequate medical care.”

His criminal case has not yet gone to trial.

In previous court appearances, his criminal defense attorney argued there was a difference between a mistake and a crime. If convicted of the first-degree felony, Jefferson could face life in prison.

Former Houston dentist Bethaniel Jefferson appears before Judge Marc Carter in the 228th District Court at the Harris County Courthouse Monday, July 31, 2017 in Houston.  Jefferson was accused of failing to properly treat a 4-year-old sedated patient who suffered permanent brain damage during a routine procedure.  She was indicted by a Harris County grand jury for the felony of causing grievous bodily harm to a child by omission.  (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle)

Former Houston dentist Bethaniel Jefferson appears before Judge Marc Carter in the 228th District Court at the Harris County Courthouse Monday, July 31, 2017 in Houston. Jefferson was accused of failing to properly treat a 4-year-old sedated patient who suffered permanent brain damage during a routine procedure. She was indicted by a Harris County grand jury for the felony of causing grievous bodily harm to a child by omission. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle)

Godofredo A. Vasquez, Houston Chronicle

On Friday, Clark said that while her daughter won’t receive any of the money the jury assessed the case at, she was still glad they got through the trial.

“It was worth trying to get justice for what happened,” she said as her youngest daughter, A’layah, bounced into her lap.

Moments later, she walked into Nevaeh’s bedroom, where her eldest was sitting in a crib among teddy bears. Medical instruments beep. After that dental visit, Nevaeh had to spend months in a rehabilitation hospital in Houston. Now Clark juggles the shifts of his job at the U.S. Postal Service and watching over his daughter. Nevaeh’s grandmother watches over the two girls when Clark is at work.

On Friday, she cared for her daughter, injecting water into a stomach tube, to follow the food she had been given for lunch.

After Nevaeh’s injuries, Clark wondered if the girl understood what had happened to her. If Nevaeh knew who she was. Clark searches for glimmers of his daughter’s old personality. The girl always likes to laugh. She likes the attention. She likes to be read to.

Clark tries to treat her like she’s another 10-year-old girl. But Nevaeh’s life is changed forever.

At times, Clark wonders about Jefferson’s upcoming criminal trial.

Nevaeh, she said, will have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. When Clark thinks of that, she thinks of Jefferson.

“She should spend the rest of her life in prison,” she said.

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