Courting Justice: The Death of a Child—From Tragedy to Making a Difference

April 10, 2013

By Robert N. Hunn

One of the hardest parts of my job is representing children who are seriously injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. It is also the most rewarding part of my job. Too often, however, I’ve seen the stress of dealing with an injured child cause the parents to separate and divorce.

I just finished representing a beautiful 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome. Unfortunately, due to a mishap during a surgery when he was 4 months old, his entire large intestine had to be removed. As a result, he suffers from chronic and uncontrollable diarrhea. If it is not dealt with promptly, his buttocks becomes excoriated to the point where you’d think he was burned. If that wasn’t enough, keeping the child properly hydrated is always an issue.

This boy’s parents are incredible people. They sacrificed to make sure their son was well taken care of. But the stress of dealing with the situation on a 24/7 basis took its toll on their relationship. They divorced. They both remain committed to providing the best care for their son, but they will not be providing that care together.

I want to tell you about another couple. John and Deborah Flick. In 1997, Deborah was pregnant with their daughter Victoria. As a result of medical negligence, Deborah’s uterus ruptured and Victoria was floating freely in her abdomen without oxygen. By the time Victoria was delivered, she had suffered severe brain damage. She suffered from cerebral palsy.

Deborah and John loved Victoria with all their heart. The stress of raising a child with cerebral palsy did not break down their relationship, but unified them to become strong advocates for Victoria and other children with special needs. They moved from Pennsylvania to Delaware to purchase a home that they could make 100% wheelchair accessible. They went around the country looking for durable medical equipment to provide Victoria with the best quality of life. Their love for Victoria strengthened their marriage.

When Victoria was around seven years old, they purchased an enclosed bed specifically manufactured and marketed to families with children of special needs. They were told that the bed would keep Victoria safe, as it would prevent her from wandering in the middle of the night or falling out of bed.

However, the bed wasn’t safe. It was defective and dangerous. One morning, Deborah went into Victoria’s room but did not see Victoria in the bed. After a frantic search, Victoria was found. Victoria had fallen into an unsafe opening between the side of the bed and the mattress. She suffocated to death.

This second devastating travesty might have been too much for most couples to bear. Sadly, I am familiar with the stress and the pain of losing a child. Un-measurable. But John and Deborah are two special people. Out of unthinkable tragedy came something good.

After Deborah and John hired me, I was able to obtain a ton of information about the manufacturer from various government agencies through the use of Freedom of Information Act requests. We learned that there were a statistically significant number of special needs kids who were killed or injured by the same defect in the bed. Shortly after we filed suit, the Associated Press and ABC News ran stories about the case. Shortly after that, the FDA stepped in and closed the manufacturer down for manufacturing an unsafe product.

The manufacturer offered the Flicks an acceptable settlement but it came with a catch; the manufacturer wanted complete confidentiality. I would not be allowed to share the evidence I accumulated with families of special needs kids who were harmed by the bed.

The decision on whether to take the settlement was totally the Flicks. They said no. They refused to take the settlement if it meant we couldn’t share information with other families.

The case ultimately settled without confidentiality. I was able to share the information concerning the defective bed with lawyers around the country who were representing families of special needs children who suffocated in the bed as well.

With the proceeds of the settlement, the Flicks started the Victoria Flick Friends Foundation; a 501(c)3 non-profit that provides grants to other non-profits to purchase durable medical equipment for children with special needs. To date, they have donated over $100,000 to various organizations so that the quality of life of other special needs children can be improved.

Deborah and John are a true inspiration. Instead of letting tragedy tear them apart, it motivated them to do good things for others. Please visit the Victoria Flick Friends Foundation online and consider making a donation.