WILMINGTON, N.C. – A jury awarded more than $400,000 Monday to a North Carolina woman artificially inseminated with "unwashed" sperm.
The jury of five men and seven women returned a verdict of $85,000 in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages to Kelly Chambliss.
The $350,000 in punitive damages will have to be reduced to $250,000 by New Hanover County Superior Court Judge W. Allen Cobb Jr. (search).
John Martin, attorney for the fertility clinic, said the state legislature capped punitive damages at either three times the compensatory damages or a maximum of $250,000.
The total adjusted award will be $335,000.
The ruling was less than what Chambliss' attorney, Gary Shipman, had asked the jury to award for physical and emotional damages but more than he asked in punitive damages.
"We're pleased with the courage of the jury," Chambliss said. "We hope this never happens to anyone else again."
Chambliss, 37, walked into a Coastal Area Health Education Center (search) fertility clinic in August 2002 for her 12th attempt at pregnancy. Nurse practitioner Julie Ramsey inseminated her with the contents of an unlabeled syringe. The syringe contained unprepared sperm left over from another client's procedure two days before.
Chambliss said she became violently ill right after the procedure.
Chambliss' partner, Caroline Chambliss, said she hopes the verdict sends a message to health care providers that medical errors are unacceptable.
Shipman asked the jury during closing arguments to deliver the message that the clinic's conduct would not be tolerated.
Martin asked the jury for a different response.
"Medical errors happen," he said. "This case is about what happens when you make a mistake."
Martin called the clinic's actions after discovering the error the gold standard in honesty.
Martin would not comment on where the award of $335,000 would come from. The fertility clinic (search) has medical malpractice insurance through Coastal Area Health Education Center for up to $1 million per occurrence.
The clinic, which has been closed since the trial began June 21, will reopen Tuesday.
"They can have this trial behind them and go back to work," Martin said. He declined to say if he would appeal the jury's finding.
Shipman said he believes the case may encourage others to stand up for their rights.