Abused child gets new chance in court
Adoptive parents allowed to sue Rochester hospital again for malpractice
Shannon Prather, Twin Cities Pioneer Press
Nykkole Rossini was 22 days old when she turned up in a hospital emergency room with a broken arm. Doctors suspected child abuse but sent Nykkole home after questioning her parents. Although state law requires hospitals to report suspected abuse, no one did.
Less than a month later, Nykkole suffered injuries at the hands of her biological father so severe she would never recover. Now 10, she will always have the intellectual capacity of a 6-month- old as a result of the injuries.
On Thursday, Nykkole got a second chance at justice, her adoptive parents say.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled they can again sue the hospital, owned by the Mayo Foundation, for malpractice.
During the first trial, an Olmsted County District judge had excluded all evidence about the hospital staff's duty to report child abuse under the law. Based on the judge's instructions, the jury awarded no damages.
This time, in seeking damages for alleged negligent care, Nykkole's attorneys can tell the jury about the hospital staff's reporting obligation.
"It doesn't feel like a win. It feels like justice for her," said Nykkole's adoptive mother, Nancy Becker. "We'll go on and on until we feel she has the justice she deserves. It's about the principle - about abused children's rights."
The state joined Nykkole's parents in the lawsuit because it is paying for much of Nykkole's care, which could top $10 million during her lifetime.
"It's one of the greatest victories for the most vulnerable people in our society," said Chris Messerly, attorney for the adoptive parents and the state.
A Mayo Clinic spokesman said hospital officials will prove staff gave Nykkole excellent care and did her no harm.
Mayo spokesman John Murphy said the clinic will assert at trial "it was Nykkole's birth father, not Mayo Clinic, that harmed Nykkole."
Nykkole was born healthy July 26, 1997, at Methodist Hospital in Rochester. Her biological father, Brian Rossini, took her to the emergency room at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester on Aug. 17. Staff observed bruising on the baby's forearm and found a broken upper arm bone - the most commonly fractured bone in child abuse cases.
Rossini said the injury was accidental. While feeding her a bottle, he said, Nykkole "spasmed" and rolled from his arms. Rossini said he grabbed the falling baby's arm, causing the break.
Doctors concluded the injuries were not abuse and released Nykkole to her parents' care.
Her biological mother, Sabryna Koob, took the girl back to the emergency room Sept. 11, reporting the baby had vomited 10 times and was sleeping a lot. A doctor diagnosed her with a stomach ailment and sent her home with Koob.
On Sept. 15, Koob rushed the baby, pale and listless, to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed multiple skull fractures, multiple rib fractures, two broken legs and bleeding on the brain. She was admitted to the intensive care unit for shaken baby syndrome.
After her hospitalization, the state took custody of Nykkole and placed her in the care of foster parents Nancy and Michael Becker. Rossini was convicted of assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Koob pleaded guilty to child endangerment. Her sentence was not immediately available.
Both parents' parental rights were terminated and the Beckers adopted Nykkole at age 2.
"We took her home from the hospital with no intention of adopting her. We had four kids of our own," Nancy Becker said. "We fell in love with her and decided we couldn't live without her."
At age 10, Nykkole cannot walk, talk, sit up, feed or dress herself. She is fed through a tube. She communicates through giggles and crying. Nancy Becker provides her 24-hour care.
Nykkole attends special education classes. She will start fifth grade this fall. Though she is unable to eat, her parents let her taste yogurt and suckers.
"She likes lights," Nancy Becker said. "She likes music. She likes to be massaged and tickled. She will raise up that one arm she can raise and hold it up there while you tickle her arm. We sit next to her. She just wants to be close. It's just that closeness."
Nancy Becker said there will be no big payday for the family if they win at trial. Instead, they'll ensure Nykkole is taken care of for the rest of her life.
"She's got beautiful blue eyes," Nancy Becker said. "We love her the way she is. She's just a beautiful girl. ... Sometimes it's hard to look at her and see that she didn't have to be like that."