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Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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All parents want to have a healthy baby, but sometimes it is simply out of their control. Statistics show that out of every 1,000 infants born in the United States, between 6 to 8 of them will be born with some type of birth injury. Birth injuries can have a lasting effect on the infant as well as the infant’s parents and family members.

What Is a Birth Injury?

Birth injuries commonly arise due to physical pressure during the birthing process. This typically happens in or around the birth canal. Sometimes, an infant will suffer injuries that simply heal themselves and resolve without the need for any medical treatment or future procedures. Others are not as lucky.

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A federal court jury recently handed down one of the largest verdicts in Ohio history in a medical malpractice case. The $14.5 million verdict was awarded to Nicole Welker and Justin Brinkley against Clearfield Hospital and Dr. Thomas A. Carnevale. Evidence was introduced at trial to show that the doctor, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at the hospital, improperly administered Pitocin to the mother to augment her labor while she was giving birth to her son, Justinian.

Pitocin is a natural hormone that causes the uterus to contract, thus inducing labor. It is often administered by doctors. Side effects of Pitocin are relatively mild for the mother but can be fatal for the fetus. Unfortunately, when Welker was administered Pitocin, the drug caused her contractions to increase in frequency and intensity. As a result of these increased contractions, Justinian’s oxygen was cut off. Tragically, Justinian was born with cerebral palsy and catastrophic cognitive disabilities.

Following the two-week trial, the jury deliberated on a number of key facts, including evidence showing that the doctor and the hospital had knowledge that the fetus was showing signs of distress during labor but took no actions to alleviate the problem. Ultimately, the jury assessed 60% liability for this incident against the doctor and the remaining 40% against the hospital.

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Generally speaking, doctors and other healthcare providers have a special duty to operate in accordance with the accepted practices and procedures of the medical community within which they practice when treating patients. In the legal realm, this duty is commonly referred to as the standard of care. Doctors and other medical professionals are charged with such a duty because they are trusted with the lives and well-being of their patients and clients. If it is proven that a doctor or medical professional has strayed from the duty of care, and as a result has caused harm to a patient, the doctor and/or company who employs the doctor can be held responsible for damages caused by the medical malpractice. Medical facilities such as hospitals may also be held responsible by a jury.

Recently, a Judge in Cook County, Illinois, upheld a $52 million medical malpractice verdict against the University of Chicago Medical Center. The lawsuit was initiated by a woman who alleged that the carelessness of the facility caused her baby to be born with cerebral palsy and a severe seizure disorder. The lawsuit cited nearly 20 mishaps against the medical center, including failure to carefully monitor the mother and child, ignoring warning signs of fetal distress, and failure to timely perform a C-section. As a result, the child failed to receive oxygen to the brain. The large jury verdict comes after nearly 12 years, and it highlights the complexities associated with medical malpractice and birth injury cases.

In medical malpractice cases, the standard of care can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This may seem odd, that there is not one universal standard for practicing healthcare providers across the United States. The rationale behind the variation is the thought that different doctors may have methods for treating or diagnosing patients based on accepted standards within the communities in which they practice. For example, a doctor in Tennessee may have a different approach to diagnosing an illness than a doctor in California.

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When people generally think of frivolous lawsuits, their first reference is to a hot cup of coffee at McDonalds.  Although the injured woman sustained severe third-degree burns, that case about a hot cup of coffee has been used as a vehicle to try and limit legitimate claims of neglect.  There is a recent example of a birth injury case that illustrates just how distorted our national conversation has become on lawsuits.

Within this past year, a Chicago family settled a birth injury case for the staggering sum of fifty three million dollars ($53,000,000) after twelve years of litigation.  In this Chicago lawsuit, medical staff at the University of Chicago ignored the child’s mother for hours despite the fact that her child was in severe fetal distress, which meant she needed an emergency c-section.  As a result of the staff’s failure, the child was born with severe brain damage.  Even twelve years later, the child is unable to walk or speak and will suffer from neurological injuries for the rest of his life.  The interesting question is what would have happened had this incident occurred in Tennessee?

In Tennessee, the legislature has tried to turn birth injury cases essentially into a “hot cup of coffee.” In Tennessee, the law has been changed to limit non-economic damages to seven hundred fifty thousand dollars ($750,000), except in certain rare circumstances.  This limits the amount a person is entitled to recover for their pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.  The law does not affect how much a person can recover for their economic losses.  These economic losses would include, but are not limited to, past lost earning capacity, past medical bills, future medical bills, or future lost earning capacity.  This limitation applies to someone spilling hot coffee on themselves or a woman in desperate need of a c-section and who ends up with a child with severe brain damage.

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