WOBURN – A judge awarded $4 million in damages Thursday to a couple who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against their former Cambridge nanny, who they say killed their infant daughter. The nanny, Aisling Brady McCarthy, had been indicted for murder in the highly publicized case, but ultimately charges were dropped after the state medical examiner revised the cause of the infant’s death.
The couple, Sameer Sabir and Nada Siddiqui, wept in the courtroom as their lawyer, former attorney general Martha Coakley, urged the judge to award compensatory and punitive damages in the civil case. Coakley, who once specialized in child abuse prosecutions, described what she said was overwhelming medical and forensic evidence that McCarthy killed 1-year-old Rehma Sabir, through blunt force trauma to her head and excessive shaking.
“She was totally dependent upon her caretaker who, impatient with her crying, tried to silence her,” Coakley said, citing hospital reports and blood evidence at the family’s former Harvard Square apartment.
Coakley said they realize McCarthy doesn’t have the $4 million they requested in the lawsuit and they aren’t trying to stop her from earning a living. Instead, she said, the case was designed to ensure that McCarthy never profits through movie or book deals. Months earlier, the couple tried, but failed, to get assurances from McCarthy through private negotiations that she would not seek to profit from the case.
The former nanny, who has since moved back to her native Ireland, was not present in the courtroom, and Thursday’s hearing comes after a default ruling was entered against her given her lack of response to the lawsuit hand-delivered to her home in County Cork.
Since Rehma’s death, McCarthy has consistently denied that she ever harmed the child.
With the $4 million judgment, Coakley said, the couple can legally go after any payments that McCarthy receives in any commercial deal related to Rehma Sabir.
The ruling by Middlesex Superior Court Judge Leila Kern came within minutes of the end of the hearing, during which she said she understood the couple’s need for “this time in court” and a way to ensure that the defendant not profit from the “horrendous set of circumstances.”
The child’s parents, who had stayed away from the courthouse during the highly-contested criminal case, said the hearing was, in some ways, cathartic.
“It’s the first time I feel our voice was heard,” said Siddiqui after the hearing, which was also attended by Rehma’s pediatrician, Dr. Michael Yogman, who came to support the family.
McCarthy returned to Ireland days after prosecutors dropped murder charges, saying they could no longer bring the case to a jury because the assistant state medical examiner, just prior to trial, had changed the manner of death in the case.
Dr. Katherine Lindstrom had originally ruled the case a homicide after conducting an autopsy, during which she found broken bones on the child’s limbs, extensive brain swelling and head bruises.
However, she later received extensive requests from defense attorneys to review their medical expert reports, which offered a variety of possible alternative causes of the child’s fatality. Lindstrom ultimately changed the manner of death to “undetermined” and said the child died of “subdural hemorrhage with an unknown etiology.” She cited, among other things, an undiagnosed potential clotting disorder.
In the couple’s wrongful death case, they included the child’s test results countering the medical examiner’s view that a physical cause, such as a clotting issue, could explain the abrupt bleeding in Rehma’s head that January day in 2013.
During Thursday’s hearing, Coakley said the assistant medical examiner’s decision “short-circuited” the criminal case, which should have gone forward in court. Instead, she said, it was derailed, and left Rehma’s parents without “their day in court,” and feeling their only recourse was the civil wrongful death case.
“To me, it’s the most unfair thing I’ve ever seen,” she said after the hearing ended.