As medical malpractice and birth injury attorneys, we’re interested in major developments in medical malpractice law. Recently, we ran across two major cases (in a legal publication that we can’t link to, unfortunately) that were serious enough to share.
One is a case of birth injuries to a child in New York City who was left with brain injuries, seizures, spastic quadriplegia, cerebral palsy and profound mental retardation after doctors allegedly made serious mistakes during his delivery. After fetal monitoring showed problems, doctors ordered a caesarian section. The attending pediatrician did not show up, and was replaced by an intern who had been out of school for only one month. This intern, the baby’s family contended, failed to recognize signs showing the baby had breathed in amniotic fluid and wastes, a condition called meconium aspiration that deprived his brain of vital oxygen. In fact, said the plaintiff, the intern may have even driven the fluids deeper into the child’s lungs by applying pressure incorrectly.
The baby was not treated for meconium aspiration until the following day, said the plaintiffs, and may have died if he had not been transferred to another hospital. He was treated in the neonatal ICU for two months, said the lawsuit, and will require daily care for the rest of his life. The case was settled out of court for $3 million, which must cover the family’s past and current medical bills as well as provide a future income for this gravely disadvantaged child.
The second case involves a 55-year-old Philadelphia man whose doctor failed to diagnose a dislocated right shoulder. This was an especially big problem because the man had lost the use of his left arm to a stroke. The man had been in a car accident; an orthopedic surgeon and a radiologist failed to recognize the injury from x-rays. After pain medication and physical therapy didn’t help, the patient found another orthopedic surgeon, who ordered more x-rays and found the dislocation. As a result of the delay in treatment, the patient needed surgery and was left with a limited range of motion in his right arm — the only arm that still worked. Because of this disability, he now needs help with everyday tasks like getting dressed; his son and daughter had to move in to help. Despite an out-of-court settlement by the radiologist, the plaintiff was awarded $875,000 by a jury.
As these cases show, medical mistakes can take a serious toll on a family. In both cases, a patient’s future was severely limited by a doctor’s actions, at a grave emotional and financial cost to the family. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes — but when the mistakes are so severe that the care falls below accepted medical standards, they’re medical malpractice.