A teenager whose heartbreaking account of how her mother took her own life after she was accused of Munchausen-by-proxy, which was at the centre of a recent Netflix documentary, wept during opening arguments in a $200m jury trial in Florida on Thursday.
Maya Kowalski’s family allege that doctors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital separated the then-nine-year-old from her family after accusing her of faking symptoms of complex regional pain syndrome.
Their story was featured in Netflix’s Take Care of Maya documentary, which alleged Maya’s mother Beata took her own life after she was denied access to her daughter for 87 days.
“Maya Kowalski was falsely imprisoned and battered, she was denied communication with her family,” the Kowalskis’ lawyer Greg Anderson told the jury, according to Fox13.
Maya, now 17, broke down in tears as she heard how Beata had died by suicide her after being denied permission to see her while child abuse allegations were investigated, according to Fox13.
“From their doctors point of view, those doctors in the ER and the hospital view Beata was crazy and they thought she was going to try to hurt her daughter. Then explain why Maya did not come in with a bruise, bump, cut, scrape, any bad medical tests,” Mr Anderson added.
The court heard how the family’s nightmare began after Maya was brought to an emergency room at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in October 2016 to seek help for complex regional pain syndrome, a rare and debilitating disease.
Maya had been taking ketamine infusion therapy for a year to treat the symptoms, her family say.
When Beata, a nurse, arrived at the hospital and insisted her daughter be given more ketamine, they became suspicious and contacted a Child Abuse Hotline.
A state judge and Florida’s Department of Children and Families later sided with doctors who suspected Beata was suffering from Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome, a psychological disorder where parents’ fabricate their child’s illness.
Maya was ordered to be held in the hospital by the judge, and prevented from seeing Beata.
After 87 days, Beata took her own life at the age of 43.
In opening statements for Johns Hopkins All Children’s, lawyer Howard Hunter insisted the hospital meant no harm to Ms Kowalski.
“The issue here is who is responsible for it. We will go over the facts and what the facts don’t show in terms of any connection of what was done by All Children’s and that tragic result,” Mr Hunter said, according to Fox13.
Mr Hunter told the court that All Children’s could not legally discharge Maya without court approval.
“The evidence will ultimately show that these doctors, nurses and hospital staff acted reasonably and prudently to treat a difficult and challenging case they were presented with and did it consistently over three months,” he added.
He said that Ms Kowalski had “challenged” doctors to give Maya a large dose of ketamine, which was not approved for children.
Mr Hunter added that there was suspicion that Maya’s symptoms were being “fostered and encouraged by the mother”.
The family is suing for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Department of Children and Families for $55m in compensatory damages and $165m in punitive damages.
The first witnesses are expected to be called on Friday, and the trial will take an estimated two months.