The Christina Grillo Case and Lessons Learned: Why Families Facing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit need a Structured Settlement

The Christina Grillo Case and Lessons Learned: Why Families Facing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit need a Structured Settlement

 

 

 

 

 


Speaker 1: This is Ringler Radio, where you get all the latest news and information about settlement solutions, litigation, mediation, and structured financial security from Ringler, the largest and most experienced company of settlement consults in the United States.

 

Ringler has been helping injured people and their families since 1975. Ringler Radio is made possible in part by American General, Liberty Mutual, MetLife, Mutual of Omaha, New York Life, Pacific Life, and Prudential.

 

Now, join Ringler Radio host, Larry Cohen.

 

Larry Cohen: Hello, and welcome to Ringler Radio, everyone. I’m Larry Cohen, the head of Ringler Northeast Operations, and we’re certainly glad you could join us again today.

 

Well, Christina Grillo Sullivan was born on January 9, 1982. In what should have been a normal delivery for her mother, Josephine, turned into an emergency C-section, leaving Christina severely brain damaged, resulting in cerebral palsy, seizures, and blindness.

 

Soon after, Christina’s family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, citing negligence by her physician. But Life Care Plans estimated the lifetime cost of medical care for little Christina to have been an excess of $20 million. The defendant’s attorneys offered a structured settlement, costing $1,267,000 that would have, over the lifetime of the child, paid out well over $100 million dollars. Quite a tax-free ability for Christina to be taken care of.

 

But Christina’s lawyers rejected the structured settlement offer, and settled the case for a lump-sum cash payment of $2.5 million, from which they took a $1 million fee and $77,000 in expenses.

 

They also failed to protect the availability of governmental benefits and sadly, as we’ve seen so often before, the money, unfortunately, was gone within a few years, and the family left to pick up the pieces and pay millions for medical treatment.

 

Christina’s family nurtured and cared for her relentlessly and lovingly at home for 32 years until she passed away on September 17, 2014. Today on Ringler Radio, Christina’s mother, Josephine Grillo Sullivan, now the executive director of the Christina Grillo Sullivan Foundation, will share with us how she’s honoring Christina’s life by assisting families living with a brain-injured loved one.

 

We’ll also discuss the high-profile and precedent setting case of Grillo Vs ] and what its outcome has meant for others who are faced with a choice, at settlement, of taking cash or structure.

 

Joining me today in this discussion as my cohost is my Ringler colleague Anne Lawter, from the Troy, Michigan office. Anne has nearly two decades of experience in medical malpractice and personal injury litigation.So with that, welcome to the show Anne. Thanks for being my cohost.

 

Anne Lawter: I’m very happy to be here with you and Josephine today.

 

Larry Cohen: Thank you.

 

Josephine, welcome to the show. It’s a pleasure and an honor to have you here. We’re really looking forward to hearing what you have to say, today, about your daughter and about what’s transpired with your foundation.

 

Josephine G. S.: Thank you for having me. I really look forward to being your guest, with Anne, and your listeners.

 

Larry Cohen: Terrific.

 

Josephine, let’s begin by having you tell us a little bit about Christina and the impact she had on you and your family. She seems like an unbelievably fascinating and wonderful girl.

 

Josephine G. S.: Well, how long do you have Larry and Anne?

 

Larry Cohen: (laughs)

 

You take as long as you want. I’ll stop you when it’s time. Go ahead.

 

Josephine G. S.: She was an absolute angel here on earth. I visually see her laughing and smiling. They were absolutely contagious, and that’s without ever speaking a word. She just inspired so many people around her. It’s where we are today.

 

It didn’t matter that she didn’t speak a word. She taught us so much, truly: what was important in life, which is unconditional love. I guess she really gifted us with her innocent trust and her dependency upon us.

 

I’ll tell you what, Larry: she really, really taught us how very, very precious this life is, and not to take one moment for granted. I just can go on and on about her, but she truly taught us about hope and faith and that’s truly what’s gotten me this far in this moment in life.

 

Larry Cohen: She was a blessing. For your family to have nurtured her as you did is wonderful to see and you to be commended for that too.

 

Anne Lawter: Josephine, I understand that Christina’s birth is what led to a medical malpractice case. Is that correct?

 

Josephine G. S.: That is correct.

 

Anne Lawter: If you could, just give us an overview of the main portions of the case.

 

Josephine G. S.: It was an evening that I had arrived at the hospital and the nurse on duty wanted to send me home. As I recall, she was saying I was having Braxton Hicks which is false labor pains. The doctor was asleep down the hall but the nurse didn’t want to disturb him. And that was until Christina’s heart rate started to drop. And then the last thing I remember there was that my body was going into shock and jumping up and down on the gurney. Then I had awoken to two nurses talking an saying that my precious baby wasn’t going to survive the night. It had taken over seven minutes to resuscitate here.

 

So I guess three weeks in the hospital neonatal unit, the doctor came up to me and said that they had done all that they could and that they were terminating life support. They were going to administer Christina last rites, and I’m sitting here thinking back as I do from time to time … There was a room off the neonatal unit and we were put in there, my family and I. We were all to say goodbye, and gently passing her from one loving family member to the other and we were just kissing her soft little newborn face.

 

But she surprised us all. She started breathing on her own and obviously was left here to do all the things that she has done for so many. We actually lived in Fort Worth at the time, in Arlington, and I had heard about a case, an attorney, and had gone to see him in Houston. He said if the baby was still alive to take the case. They had came back and said that the nurse was credible and the hospital had made an offer of $50,000 and they suggested that I take it.

 

Looking at both of them I just said there was just no way I could care for Christina over her lifetime. Two weeks later I get a phone call and they told me to come pick up my papers, that they were withdrawing from the case.

 

So that’s when I had located new counsel which was Tom and Tommy and they too delayed about two years until the hospital saw the motion to dismiss and then at that they prepared the case for trial.

 

Larry Cohen: You know Josephine, through this trauma of the injury to your daughter and through the birth etc., finally you received an offer from the defendants’ attorney which included a tax-free structured settlement as a part of it and yet your own attorney rejected that offer and decided to go with a lump sum settlement. Of course that decision had some severe consequences as you moved down the road. Tell us about the impact of that decision on your family as you moved along. What was the impact?

 

Josephine G. S.: To clarify to your listeners, the attorney decision to go with that lump sum settlement, it was so insufficient to cover her basic medical needs, but also was not conveyed in writing, nor did I have a clue what a structured settlement was or the benefit of the weighted age as I do today. That $1,267,579 was with a Cost of Living Increase (COLA) of 7.2%.

 

Larry Cohen: Wow.

 

Josephine G. S.: Yeah. That’s the looming increase. It would have paid Christina in excess of $200 million-

 

Larry Cohen: Yeah, with that kind of a COLA it’s amazing.

 

Josephine G. S.: And today, of course we all know how devastating that was not to have done that. The attorney’s fees would have been based on the cost of the structure, not the gross amount received, so actually Larry 40% of $2.5 is double the attorney fees. I guess that was their answer.

 

Larry Cohen: Wow. Wow. Am I right in that you were never given the opportunity to understand what a structure was? It was never really explained to you, is that right?

 

Josephine G. S.: No, not at all.

 

Larry Cohen: Wow.

 

Anne Lawter: So Josephine as I understand it, after that experience of taking that settlement, there came a time that you and your family had exhausted your funds and yourself and you instituted a malpractice case against the attorneys and that guardian ad litem for legal malpractice, regarding the fact that Christina’s case should have never been settled for a lump sum and the consequences that followed. Can you tell us about that?

 

Josephine G. S.: Yes I can. It was for the longest time, because we knew something was wrong, not until I spoke with an attorney named Todd who is in Dallas … He told me that he had never heard of a brain-damaged baby case not being settled with a structured settlement. Again, I had told him, “What does that mean?” And he kindly gave me the phone number of a structured settlement broker that has now become my friend over the past 25 years and that’s Mr. Neil Johnson.

 

I can remember meeting with Neil in an Italian restaurant over in Dallas and over two hours he explained in detail what a structured settlement was and the benefit of a rated age and what that would have meant to the value of Christina’s settlement. Larry and Anne, I left that meeting in tears. I wasn’t angry, I was just saddened that someone could do something so unconscionable.

 

I had filed a cause of action [inaudible 00:11:50] because I was unable to find counsel that would represent Christina because everyone that I had spoken to was fearful of retribution with judges and other attorneys in the future. So the two-year statute of limitations was tolling so I filed a lawsuit.

 

The odd thing is Neil, he believed in us and researched and found one of the companies that actually has quoted a structured settlement in the underlying case. So I actually went to go and deposition John [Camp 00:12:26]. He was a defense attorney for the hospital. When I was asking him the question, “Was Christina ever offered a structured settlement?” And Larry and Anne, just sitting there and looking across at this attorney for the hospital … He just snapped his pencil in half like it was a twig and he looked me in the eye and said, “As I sit here today, I do not recall.”

 

I was just-

 

Larry Cohen: Yeah, sounds like he knew the bad news was coming. It’s interesting.

 

Josephine G. S.: Right, right.

 

Larry Cohen: You know Josephine, what’s resulted from your fight against your attorneys for doing what they did is given rise to what’s now commonly called the Grillo waiver. It’s a document that acknowledges in writing that the plaintiff understands the potential consequences of accepting a lump sum settlement in lieu of a portion of it being structured. I kind of think it’s akin to informed consent, where you really understand what you’re turning down if you want to turn it down, or what you’re getting if you decide to accept it. That seems so logical today but obviously wasn’t back there when you were in need of something like that. It’s through your situation that people in the future are not going to have to suffer through that circumstance like you did. At least something came out of that that hopefully will help others.

 

Josephine G. S.: And I sit here and I smile. I smile that her little life was for a reason and it was to help so many actually become better loved and taken care of by their families. Because, Larry and Anne, a family taking care of someone like Christina, it is so tolling on everyone. If the funds would have been there … You think about it, just momentarily, that life could have been different, but actually when you do think about it a little bit more it’s where it needed to be. Because if we had not have experienced that  we wouldn’t be here today and she would not have already started to help thousands of people.

 

Larry Cohen: Your story’s a humbling one, it really is, for all of us, to have gone through what you did and taking care of Christina for those many years. It’s as I say, a humbling story.

 

We’re going to take a quick break right now, and we’ll be right back in a minute right here on Ringler Radio with more with Josephine Grillo Sullivan. We’ll be right back.

 

Speaker 1: This is Ringler Radio, brought to you from Ringler, the nation’s leading provider of fair settlement solutions. Did you know that Ringler is involved in a third of all structured settlement cases in the country? Ringler advisors work with all the parties in a lawsuit settlement to find the best possible financial solution for the people involved. Everybody wins. There’s a Ringler consultant in all the major cities in the US. No one had more experienced experts in the settlement business than Ringler. Check out our website at www.ringlerassociates.com for the best information for injured parties, attorneys, and claims professionals to find the Ringler advisor nearest you.

 

When it’s your interest at stake in a lawsuit settlement, you want only the best, most objective financial plan. You can count on Ringler advisors to create customized plan that meets the financial needs of you and your family for the future. Visit ringlerassociates.com to learn more.

 

Larry Cohen: Welcome back to Ringler Radio. Glad you could join us. I’m joined today by my co-host Anne Lawter and our special guest, Josephine Grillo Sullivan, executive director the Christina Grillo Sullivan Foundation. Josephine, you and your family, your husband Craig and your son Christian, have devoted your lives to the memory of Christina in many ways. Of course one of them is the mission to influence legislation to encourage structured settlements. You even set a precedent with the second court of appeals case opinion holding guardian at litems accountable for breaching their fiduciary duty.

 

Talk to us a little bit about how you’re looking to change the law when it comes to structures versus lump sum payments when people have to make that pretty momentous decision.

 

Josephine G. S.: That process actually had been started by the passage of Senate Bill 731 in 1999. For three legislative sessions, that’s six years, we fought for that legislation that would make it mandatory for a structured settlement to be presented in writing when it involved a minor child or a non-competent adult. That was in a 76 Texas legislative session. It was passed and codified into Texas Section 139.001-5. Larry, I believe that probate courts truly, truly have too much power without accountability. I actually have proposed a five-member oversight panel when it comes to the health, safety, and wellbeing, consisting of a physician, a lawyer, two citizens, and legislative member because the abuse of the probate system has been well-documented and persons are being stripped over their rights with limited recourse.

 

Larry Cohen: Well I know who to nominate as one of the citizen members of that commission. (laughter) That’s for sure.

 

Josephine G. S.:  

 

Anne Lawter: That sounds like a great idea, Larry. Josephine, you had an opportunity to be right there with the legislature and give testimony. You and Christina both testified at the time that the law was being discussed. Can you tell us about that experience and how it affected you to be able to take Christina with you to talk to the legislators?

 

Josephine G. S.: I guess it was just one of the many times she was by my side, again for the six years we traveled back and forth to Austin and other hearings across the state of Texas. To describe it, she was instrumental in I think them actually listening and seeing because when you have someone that is severely brain-damaged, it actually … You’re creating an awareness. I don’t think people can really completely understand until they walk or see your shoes, just for a bit. So it was very important and the response was what was needed, when she was traveling with me.

 

Larry Cohen: Christina’s memory also takes shape, Josephine, in the form of your foundation’s work to support families with brain injured loved ones. I know we all want to hear about that, and also tell us about the Life Care Resource Guide. These are pretty inspirational things you’re doing.

 

Josephine G. S.: Well the Life Care Resource Guide actually takes into account the medical diagnosis of an individual. What we do as a foundation, because the stress of family helping to support that person … We actually help them because it’s so daunting. We have volunteer nurses, therapists, and they actually go in and look for the resources around their demographic area and that’s how we create their life care plan. The therapies, the equipment, do you need dealers, doctors, hospitals, day-habs? It’s just whatever is needed for that family to be able to take care of their loved ones.

 

Larry Cohen: That’s interesting, Josephine. That’s tremendous work you’re doing for the brain injured families. I’m sure they appreciate everything that your foundation and the Life Care Resource Guide can provide for them.

 

On your foundation’s website, there’s an interesting yellow butterfly which we’ve learned has some special significance, but I’m not sure what that is. So talk to us about Christina and the significance of the yellow butterfly. What is that?

 

Josephine G. S.: Well Larry, they say that our Heavenly Father allows our loved ones that have gone to heaven to come through the veil. It started after Nina had gone to heaven. From time to time when we would be at the point of such unbearable grief, a yellow butterfly would come and appear. I guess the first time was at a football game, oddly enough, ’cause Nina went everywhere with us. She loved to cheer on her brother’s college team and to encourage him because he was so devastated after losing her. He was about to graduate from college. So we went to the football game, trying to make it as normal as possible and went and even stood in the handicapped section where she used to stand, where we rolled her up in her wheelchair. And here comes this yellow butterfly, and I started crying.

 

I guess to me it was a symbol that maybe she was saying, “I’m okay. I’m here.” And it had landed on the railing where her wheelchair used to sit. There was a lady standing next to me and she hugged me and I explained to her. If you can imagine … Of course a football stadium’s all concrete. It’s not like there’s trees or anything around that a butterfly would show up. But there again, here comes another football game and here comes this yellow butterfly landing on the same spot. So to me it was more Christina saying, “You know Mom, I’m okay. I’ll always be here with you.” And it just to this today really means a lot.

 

Larry Cohen: Oh, no question. It gives you goosebumps, that story. It’s really amazing. And you know you hear stories like that, and I think it all comes down to having faith that things are a little bit better up there. I think that’s what she is telling you. That’s a very interesting and heartfelt story.

 

Josephine G. S.: I really would love to share with your listeners, the one day … Because there is an angel that the butterfly is in the wing of the logo … I was running on the beach one day … I’m a runner. And I just couldn’t bear to see Craig crying over the loss of Nina and when I got back in the car, just shut the door and was yelling at the top of my lungs. And it’s so out of nature for me to do that, but I guess grief took over. Asking her where she was … That day we were actually donating one of her wheelchairs. So we had gotten back in the car and drove back home and got the wheelchair out and was putting it in the car of a lady that actually has helped us for many years. She started crying and then I started crying uncontrollably, and then there goes Craig.

 

Then all of a sudden she says you know, “Look up.” And I would invite your listeners to go to the website. It was the shape of an angel cloud. There wasn’t another cloud in the sky. It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. There again, it was another sign that … “You know Mom, you’re on the right track. We’re doing okay, and keep going.”

 

Larry Cohen: It’s amazing stories.

 

Anne Lawter: Yes, Josephine. The perseverance that you and your family have shown in carrying on Christina’s legacy is amazing and the work that you’re doing to help other families that take care of brain injury victims is just amazing. Can you tell us how if someone wanted to get involved with the foundation and volunteer, how they could do that?

 

Josephine G. S.: I surely can. I just wanted to say one more thing in regards to her logo. Her loving brother Christian actually did those strokes of love on his tablet and created that logo. I wish I had more time to tell you about Christian, because what an amazing young man and what an amazing brother he was to her and still is.

 

Larry Cohen: Well you know they have an amazing mother too, don’t forget that.

 

Josephine G. S.: Thank you. And in regards to, Anne, thanking you for how people can assist Christina’s foundation, the foundation that bears her name and the foundation that has helped so many not only changing the structured settlement industry but allowing structured settlement brokers to assist so many. If you could please go to her website, because the foundation is helping so many families and we just need their support, and through donations. It’s www.tcgsf.org. Because we’re a 501(c)(3) public charity, anything that you donate can and will be tax exempt as allowed by law. I guess not only as the executive director but as a mom who loved and cared for her daughter for so many years, almost 33 incredibly blessed years, this is the way that you can honor Christina. Become a Nina moment, and please go to her foundation and donate.

 

if you want to talk to me personally, I would love that. You can dial the 1-866-637-8392, that’s extension 21. And my email address is Josephine@tcgsf.org and I would love to hear from you. Again, Anne and Larry, I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be a part of Ringler Radio and I just-

 

Larry Cohen: It’s our pleasure, believe me. This has been an inspirational show. It’s not just educational but inspirational and I think all of our audience would respond positively to that statement. Anne I know is someone that’s been in this industry, and we all deal every day with these issues of, “Are they gonna take a structure or are they gonna take a cash settlement?” We’ve seen the pain that comes from those who don’t really have the decision explained properly to them. I think what you’ve done Josephine, not just through your foundation helping others, but also through the toughness and the fight, having to file the pro se litigation even, that just shows the spirit you’ve had. You really helped a lot of people. I just want you to know that.

 

Josephine G. S.: The appeal case, as well, it was just-

 

Larry Cohen: Oh yeah, oh yeah. No question about it.

 

Anne Lawter: Josephine, having practiced as an attorney for almost two decades, I just cannot commend you enough for having the courage to be able to take something on yourself and having the courage to move forward with that or striving to make a difference in others’ lives as you have. My heart just bursts with joy in knowing what a major contribution you and Christina have made.

 

Josephine G. S.: Thank you so much. I will tell you, last night we had our second practice for the adaptive tennis program that we just started with the Special Olympics. At the end, because those children are so intellectually and physically disabled, at the end when you’ve got the smiles and the success and their parents are cheering them on, even if it’s just to hit a ball one time with the tennis racket, it just enlightens your heart. At the end when they took the picture, and the reason I’m saying this, is I had gotten everyone in the stands. We all got together and it was like one, two, three, and then everyone said, “Nina!”

 

Larry Cohen: Oh wow.

 

Josephine G. S.: The picture was taken and it was absolutely beautiful. So I will end on that note-

 

Larry Cohen: No question, no question. That’s terrific. Terrific way to end it. And I just want to say again, Josephine, tremendous having you here and I’m glad you gave out all the information to how to reach you and the foundation. Anne, if someone wanted to reach you, how would they do that?

 

Anne Lawter: They can reach me in the Ringler office in Troy at 248-457-1212 or at alawter@ringlerassociates.com

 

Larry Cohen: Terrific. All of you out there, you can reach any Ringler associate. You can find them, you can even look at their pictures if you want, by going to the Ringler website, ringlerassociates.com. On that website you’re going to find tremendous amount of information, helpful information, the kind of explanatory information that we only hope that at one point back in the day that Josephine might have had.

 

Josephine, you’ve been an inspiration to us. If you want to hear any of the Ringler Radio shows, ringlerassociates.com, ringlerradio.com, legaltalknetwork.com, or an iTunes where you can download the show and listen at your leisure and hopefully be inspired by Josephine as we all were today.

 

So with that I want to say thank you Josephine for being a tremendous guest and inspiring all of us. And as I said before, humbling all of us too at the same time. Thank you very much for being here.

 

Josephine G. S.: Thank you both and many blessings to you both as well.

 

Larry Cohen: Thank you. And Anne, thanks for being a great co-host.

 

Anne Lawter: Yes, thank you Larry and thank you Josephine.

 

Larry Cohen: And for the rest of you out there, be inspired and go have a great day. Bye-bye.

 

Speaker 1: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by, Legal Talk Network, its offices, directors, employee, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.

 

Thanks for listening to Ringler Radio, celebrating more than a decade of podcasting, and over two million listeners. Think of Ringler, the objective settlement advisors with more than 140 consultants in 60 cities nationwide. Visit ringlerassociates.com today.

 

 

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