Case Example: Malpractice Settlement for Birth Injuries to Child

This case example looks at birth injuries caused by negligence. See how the injured child and his family are compensated for medical malpractice.

Here we discuss a fictional case study drawn from the fact patterns in actual birth injury cases.

Our case study deals with a negligent obstetrician who failed to provide adequate medical care to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby, resulting in permanent brain injuries to the child.

This case study is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events, although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

We’ll go over the circumstances surrounding the woman’s labor and delivery, medical personnel liability, injuries to the child and his mother, and the final malpractice claim resolution.

The study concludes with a list of important points you should know about birth injuries and medical malpractice.

Medical Negligence Resulting in Harm

Jennifer was pregnant with her first child. She had no significant complications during the entire pregnancy. In her last weeks of pregnancy, Jennifer began complaining that she didn’t feel right.

During her weekly visit, the doctor dismissed her concerns, stating that this was her first child, so Jennifer was “unfamiliar with” how her body would normally react to pregnancy and childbirth.

Jennifer came back to his office the following day complaining of severe pain and asking if she should go to the hospital. The doctor did not do a physical exam, again dismissing Jennifer’s concerns as female overreacting.

The following morning, Jennifer’s husband made a frantic call to 911 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.

Jennifer was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The nurses called Jennifer’s obstetrician. However, the doctor didn’t arrive until hours later. In the meantime, nurses gave Jennifer medication to slow her contractions and help with the pain.

When her doctor arrived, he made light of her pain but told her that “true” labor would likely begin soon. The doctor then left again to go to lunch with colleagues and silenced his phone.

The nurses continued to monitor Jennifer. After four more hours, Jennifer had not dilated but was in tremendous pain. The fetal monitor began to reveal that the baby was in distress. After numerous calls from the labor and delivery nurses, the doctor finally called and said that he was on his way but advised the nurses not to authorize any procedures until he got there.

The doctor didn’t show up until another two hours had passed. Despite the baby’s continuing distress, he insisted on treating Jennifer with labor-inducing medications that intensified her contractions’ force and pace.

When she was still unable to deliver, she was rushed in for an emergency C-section, however not before the baby had suffered permanent brain damage from low oxygen caused by the prolonged and intense labor.

Personal Injury Liability

In this case, the doctor was negligent because he owed a professional duty to Jennifer and her unborn child. When he failed to do what any competent obstetrician would do in the same situation, his failure was the actual and proximate cause of the baby’s injury.

He was negligent when he failed to be available, was unable 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 not ensuring Jennifer and her baby’s safety, despite the doctor’s directive. Competent nurses would know the dangers of prolonged fetal distress. While one would argue that this would have bordered on insubordination had the nurses ignored the doctor’s orders, they are responsible for preventing harm to women and their babies.

Lastly, the hospital is liable for the doctor’s negligent training and supervision, and the nurses who worked for the hospital.

Injuries and Damages

Jennifer suffered the pain and distress of a mishandled delivery. Her baby boy, named Nathan, suffered permanent brain damage. Pediatric experts explained that Nathan would have lifelong mobility limitations, developmental delays, and may never live independently.

Because Nathan was an infant, his future medical needs were unknown, and it was challenging to arrive at an exact birth injury settlement figure.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit and Settlement

Attorneys for Nathan and his parents filed suit against the negligent obstetrician, the nurses, and the hospital for medical malpractice. The family sought joint and several liability in the amount of $30 million from the obstetrician, nurses, and the hospital, meaning the family could seek the full amount of compensation from each or all of the three parties.

The lawsuit stated that Jennifer gave all parties ample notice that she was not doing well in the last days of pregnancy and made every attempt to seek timely medical care.

The labor and delivery nurses knew the baby was in continuing and worsening distress yet failed to alert other qualified doctors at the hospital. Jennifer’s obstetrician was not only unavailable but did not provide appropriate medical care to Jennifer and her baby when he finally did show up.

Three insurance companies stepped in to defend their insureds. The hospital’s liability insurance carrier took the lead, in cooperation with the nurses union malpractice carrier and the obstetrician’s medical malpractice insurance company.

During the discovery phase of litigation, the family’s injury attorney found out that other patients had filed malpractice claims against the same obstetrical doctor and nurses team at the hospital.

To avoid the bad publicity of a jury trial, the hospital wanted the case settled quickly. Lawyers for the hospital promptly offered the full $30 million in settlement on behalf of all parties. The hospital’s agreement would seek indemnification (reimbursement) from the nurses’ union and the doctor’s insurance so that the family did not need to deal with three lawsuits.

Important Points About Medical Malpractice

  • In birth injury cases, the doctor and nurses and the facility can be sued for medical malpractice.
  • Some obstetricians may have “privileges” at the hospital, meaning they can use the hospital facilities, but the hospital does not employ them.
  • There are several types of medical errors that might result in infant injury or death.
  • Related malpractice cases involve harm to the mother or baby because of botched C-sections.
  • Birth injuries are high-dollar cases that must be handled by a skilled personal injury attorney to get fair compensation.
Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>