Wednesday, July 3, 2013
A Pennsylvania woman whose newborn baby was taken from her after she failed a drug test by eating a single poppy seed bagel was just awarded almost $144,000 in a settlement.
In 2010, Elizabeth Mort, 24, with help from the Pennsylvania office of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against Lawrence County child welfare authorities and Jameson Hospital in Pittsburgh.
When Mort was in the hospital to deliver her baby, Isabella Rodriguez, in April 2010, she tested positive for opiates after eating a bagel, her lawyer said. The hospital alerted the county Department of Public Welfare, which, along with two police officers, forcibly removed a 3-day-old Isabella from Mort's home for five days.
"I was devastated. I just cried and cried and cried. I didn't want to let her go. I was heartbroken," Mort said at a news conference following her filing of the lawsuit.
After nearly a week, officials determined there was no evidence that Mort had used drugs, and returned her little girl to her.
Mort said she ate a single poppy seed bagel she purchased from Dunkin' Donuts on her way to the hospital. The baby never tested positive for drugs.
In her lawsuit, Mort alleged that Jameson Hospital had used a low threshold for its tests, resulting in false positives from common foods and medicines. The federal standard is 2,000 nanograms per milliliter, but Jameson alerted authorities if only 300 nanograms were discovered.
In addition to the cash settlement, Jameson Hospital agreed to change its policies for drug testing, a hospital official told ABC News.
The hospital will now alert county authorities only if a baby, and not the mother, tests positive for drugs, according to ACLU staff attorney Sara Rose, who represented Mort.
Lawrence County agreed to inform mothers of a positive drug test before seeking a court order to remove a child from its home, said Rose.
Calls to the Lawrence County Department of Public Safety were not returned.
"I think they are pleased this has been resolved," Rose said of her client's family. "This was a painful, horrific experience. Isabella is now 3. She's very cute and doing very well."