Charles Johnson Sues Cedars-Sinai Saying the Hospital's Racism Caused His Wife's C-section Death

Charles Johnson says he was told his wife, Kira Johnson, "wasn't a priority" when he asked hospital staff to help her as he noticed her hemorrhaging blood after childbirth.

Charles Johnson V holding picture of parents
Photo: Courtesy of Charles Johnson IV

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is being sued following accusations that racism led to a Black woman's death after a C-section in 2016. This civil rights lawsuit was initiated by her husband, Charles Johnson IV, in 2017. It accuses Cedars-Sinai and the doctor assigned to care for his wife, Kira Dixon Johnson, of "wrongful death" and "emotional distress," fueled by racism.

What was supposed to be the happiest day of the couple's lives, turned into a nightmare for Charles and Kira, who was only 39 when she died. It was April 2016 when the couple went to Cedars to deliver their second son, Langston, via C-section. Things took a tragic turn when Kira began hemorrhaging blood and eventually bleeding to death only 12 hours after her cesarean.

Her husband told the Supreme Court that he believes this wasn't purely by accident, but intentional neglect because his wife was a Black woman. Johnson explained that he's familiar with Cedars having higher maternal mortality rates for Black women compared to white women.

During a Wednesday news conference, Charles spoke in front of the hospital. He said, "There's no doubt in my mind that my wife would be here today, and be here Sunday celebrating Mother's Day with her boys if she was a caucasian woman."

"Cedars-Sinai failed her," Charles said.

The lawsuit notes that there were evident signs of internal bleeding and despite Charles requesting help several times, Cedars refused to readmit Kira to an operating room–until it was too late. This represents the myth that Black women are "more powerful" than other women and are, therefore less susceptible to pain. Johnson claims no one took his wife seriously, explaining at one point, that a nurse told him she wasn't a priority.

Attorney Nicholas Rowley refers to Cedars' execution of Kira's C-section as "sloppy" and "butchery" and shared that almost "90% of her blood was later found in her stomach." Her bladder was lacerated and was never sutured properly.

Kira with Langston
Courtesy of Charles Johnson IV

In response to the lawsuit, the hospital issued a statement rejecting claims of racism. It explains that Cedars was "founded on principles of diversity and health care for all" and maintains its "culture and values."

The statement also says that the hospital is dedicated to making a change."We are actively working to eradicate unconscious bias in health care and advance equity in health care more broadly. We commend Mr. Johnson for the attention he has brought to the important issue of racial disparities in maternal outcomes.''

For Johnson, this case extends beyond his wife's death to the overall higher maternal death rates of all Black women. He's advocating for accountability to change the racist culture of the healthcare system at large. He's testified before Congress and at the state Capitol to rally for bills to pass that ensure health providers actively detect implicit bias at work and remove limits on monetary medical malpractice awards. Johnson is even seeking an injunction that would require Cedars to provide more protection to mothers, especially Black mothers.

The case will go to trial on May 11 in Los Angeles if a settlement isn't reached ahead of time.

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