Personal Injury Case Study
This birth injury settlement example deals with a negligent doctor failing to administer proper care during a childbirth. We'll discuss important medical malpractice legal issues including specific damages, liability, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.
Jennifer was pregnant with her first child with relatively few complications during the entire pregnancy. In her last weeks however, Jennifer began complaining that she didn't feel right. The doctor dismissed her concerns stating that this was her first child and as a result, Jennifer was "unfamiliar with" the way her body would normally react to pregnancy and childbirth.
Jennifer came back to his office the following day complaining of severe pain and asking to be admitted. The doctor did not do a pelvic exam, again dismissing Jennifer's concerns as borderline hypochondria. The following morning, Jennifer's husband made a frantic call to 9-1-1 stating that his wife was in her ninth month of pregnancy, was having severe cramps, her water had broken and he believed she was in labor but unable to move from her bed.
Paramedics were dispatched and immediately transported Jennifer to the emergency room where her obstetrician was called. He did not arrive for 4 hours during which time they gave Jennifer medication to slow her contractions and assist with pain. When her doctor arrived, he made light of her pain but told her that the contractions would likely begin soon.
Jennifer inquired about a cesarean section, but the doctor advised that he was adamantly opposed to them. The doctor then left again to go to lunch with colleagues and turned his pager to mute.
The nurses continued to monitor Jennifer and after 4 more hours she had not dilated but was in extraordinary pain. The fetal monitor began to reveal that the baby was in distress because her water had already broken and his heart rate was dropping. After numerous calls to the doctor for the previous 4-5 hours, the doctor finally called and said that he was on his way but advised the nurses not to authorize any procedures on Jennifer.
The doctor failed to arrive for 2 more hours and when he did, he insisted on inducing Jennifer. When she was unable to deliver she was rushed in for an emergency C-section, however not before the baby had suffered permanent brain damage as a result of fetal distress.
The doctor in this case was overtly negligent because he owed a professional duty to Jennifer and her unborn child to perform medical services competently. When he did not, his failure was the actual and proximate cause of the baby's injury: permanent brain damage.
He was specifically negligent when he failed to be available for several hours, failed to identify signs of fetal distress, failed to recommend appropriate treatment options for the complications causing fetal distress, and failed to perform a cesarean section in the presence of factors suggesting fetal distress. This would make him liable for a birth injury settlement to compensate for the child's injuries.
The nurses were also negligent for failing to over-ride the doctor's directive. While one would argue that this would have bordered on insubordination had the nurses ignored the doctor's orders, the nurses are also charged with caring for the patient's well being.
Lastly, the hospital is vicariously liable for negligent training and supervision of both the doctor and the nurses.
The baby suffered permanent brain damage in the form of cerebral palsy as a result of fetal distress.
Over his life, this would manifest itself with seizures, mobility problems, possible mental retardation, and impairment of speech, hearing or sight. Because the baby was an infant, his future injuries were unknown and it was difficult to arrive at an exact birth injury settlement figure.
Jennifer and her husband sued the nurses' union insurance, the hospital's insurance and the doctor's insurance for medical malpractice, arguing that Jennifer gave all parties ample notice that she was not doing well in the last days of pregnancy. The nurses also knew that the baby was in distress because they read the fetal monitor.
The doctor was not only unavailable, but failed to perform medical services competently upon his arrival by insisting that Jennifer did not need a cesarean section.
The family sued the hospital for $3 million arguing that the future care required for their son would be extensive, though unknown.
The case was highly publicized due to three previous pregnancy mishaps involving the same doctor and team of nurses at the same hospital. Because of the publicity, the hospital wanted the case settled quickly and decided not to enter into extensive negotiations.
They promptly gave the full birth injury settlement amount of $3 million and opted to pursue indemnification (reimbursement) from the nurses' union and the doctor's insurance so that the family did not need to deal with three law suits.
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