Appeals court rejects lawsuit by father who said doctor failed to protect infant son

A father who sued CHI Franciscan Health after his son was killed, alleging its Lakewood hospital failed to protect the infant, will not get damages from medical providers, the state appellate court said.

In an Oct. 19 opinion, the court upheld Pierce County Superior Court Judge Susan K. Serko’s decisions to dismiss Stephen Noel’s claims of wrongful death and failure to report child abuse, and ruled in favor of Franciscan regarding the father’s medical malpractice claim.

When 4-month old Nathaniel Noel’s mother took him to St. Clare Hospital in 2008, Dr. Ian Cowan, who is named in the lawsuit, said a bruise on the baby’s eye was not caused by abuse but was accidental trauma.

The boy died two days after the hospital visit, and his mother, Domenique Astrid Conway, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. She told investigators she hit the boy in frustration.

Stephen Noel contended in the lawsuit that Cowan should have recognized and reported child abuse.

Serko ruled part of the testimony of a doctor Noel’s lawyer called as an expert witness was hearsay. She said the plaintiff couldn’t otherwise show the fatal injuries happened before the hospital visit and ruled in favor of Franciscan and Cowan.

And the appeals court agreed.

Franciscan issued a statement after the higher court’s ruling:

“While we are saddened by the death of four-month-old Nathaniel Noel; we are pleased that the state court of appeals affirmed the state superior court’s summary judgment dismissing the claim against CHI Franciscan Health, St. Clare Hospital and our attending physician.

“CHI Franciscan Health provides exceptional patient care each and every day in our hospitals and clinics. We mourn Nathaniel’s loss with his family and hope they can now find peace.”

The state Department of Social and Health Services, also named in the lawsuit, settled in 2014 by agreeing to pay Noel $45,000.