May 24, 1999

Switched Baby's Mom Sues Hospital

By The Associated Press
ROANOKE, Va. (AP) -- The mother of one of two babies accidentally switched at birth at the University of Virginia hospital filed a $31 million lawsuit on Monday that accuses physicians, nurses and administrators of negligence and fraud.

Paula Johnson has suffered mental pain and anguish since learning through genetic tests last summer that she was given the wrong baby to take home in July 1995, her lawsuit claims.

Ms. Johnson also suffered the loss of companionship of her biological child, according to the lawsuit filed in Stafford County Circuit Court.

Ms. Johnson has raised Callie Conley since she brought her home from the hospital. She gave birth to Rebecca Chittum, who was taken home by another family and now lives in Buena Vista.

A statement released by Steuart Thomas and Gregory Lucyk, the attorneys representing the state-run hospital, called the lawsuit "unfortunate for both children" and the amount being sought "exorbitant and excessive."

Rebecca's two sets of grandparents have custody of her because her parents -- Kevin Chittum and Whitney Rogers -- died in a car crash last July, shortly before the switch was discovered.

In April, Rebecca's grandparents accepted a settlement worth $2 million from the state-run hospital, but Ms. Johnson and attorneys representing the state could not agree on compensation.

Ms. Johnson's lawyer, John Blakely, said the state's attorneys rejected Ms. Johnson's offer to accept a $1 million settlement and offered to pay just $200,000.

"It doesn't appear there is any hope for a settlement," he said.

The lawsuit seeks $12 million in compensatory damages and $12 million in punitive damages from the state, and also seeks $7 million in damages the hospital's chief executive and chief of staff.

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