November 13, 2023
(Sarasota, Fla.) – “For the first time, I feel like I got justice,” Maya Kowalski said outside of the courtroom after a jury ruled on Nov. 9 that Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (All Children’s) has to pay her and her family over $261 million in damages.
All Children’s was found liable for multiple allegations, including the wrongful death of Maya’s mother, Beata Kowalski, the false imprisonment of Maya, and medical malpractice.
At 10-years-old, Maya was admitted to the St. Petersburg, Florida, hospital in the fall of 2016 for debilitating abdominal pain. The Kowalski’s immediately requested their daughter be provided with high doses of ketamine, which alarmed doctors.
This prompted the hospital to report Maya’s parents to the state’s child protective services. The complaint resulted in a court order for Maya to remain in state custody and prohibited visits with her mother.
Her parents, Beata and Jack Kowalski, said that Maya, now 17, suffered from a rare neurological disorder called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), making her extremely sensitive to stimuli and causing excruciating pain in her legs and feet.
Beata died by suicide 87 days after being kept away from her daughter, as she details in her suicide letter, read to jurors on Oct. 2 during the trial.
Jurors also heard from a panel of medical professionals. All Children’s claimed that they acted in Maya’s best interest and that her CRPS diagnosis was debated by doctors at All Children’s.
In a pre-recorded deposition from Dr. Ashraf Hanna, who provided ketamine injections to Maya from Jan. to Oct. 2016, jurors learned that it was at his request that the Kowalski parents take their daughter to the hospital to get tested for the abdominal pain she was experiencing.
Lawyers for the hospital questioned the efficacy of Hanna’s treatment by comparing the quality of life Maya had prior to treatment and the day she left. Hanna refuted the claim that treatment was inefficient and explained that CRPS symptoms aren’t linear and that flare-ups occur. Instead of looking at two points in time, Hanna looked at the fluctuating quality of life Maya exhibited during the six months he treated her overall.
“Any doctor you talk to, any CRPS expert, will tell you that CRPS has ups and downs,” said Hanna during the recorded deposition played to the jurors on Oct. 27. He referred to photos of Maya jumping in a pool and enjoying family time throughout the six months of treatment to demonstrate that her quality of life improved.
Dr. Sally Smith, a doctor for the state’s child protective services, evaluated Maya’s condition at All Children’s and diagnosed her with conversion therapy and Munchausen by proxy. Her recommendations to the judge led to the decision that Maya should be removed from her parent’s care.
This case has been the subject of a Netflix documentary, “Take Care of Maya, ” which premiered in June. The Kowalski family gives an account of their experience at the hospital and the years since. The documentary also sheds light on other families who said they experienced similar encounters due to Smith’s handling of their cases at All Children’s.
According to the New York Times, the hospital is ordered to pay $211 million in compensatory damages and $50 million in punitive damages.