Posted by Bill Sandweg on 19 August 2019.
Recently a Baltimore jury awarded just over $229 million in a case involving a birth injury. If that is all you know, you can fill in a lot of the other blanks automatically. You will know that, as in the Baltimore case, the infant was likely profoundly damaged. You will know that, as in the Baltimore case, the child was likely to need expensive medical care for the rest of her life. You will know that, as in the Baltimore case, the case is a very sad one. Lastly, you will know that, as in the Baltimore case, the defense is likely to appeal.
Birth injury cases are almost always sad. What everyone hoped would be a joyous occasion turned out to be a catastrophe that no one wanted and for which no one will usually accept responsibility.
In the Baltimore case, the mother was only 16 at the time of her daughter’s birth. When she arrived at the hospital she was only 25 weeks of gestation (full term is 40 weeks) and she was suffering from pre-eclampsia, a condition in which the mother’s blood pressure is dangerously high. Only about half of babies born at 25 weeks survive. At trial, the mother claimed that the hospital should have given her an immediate Caesarian Section to save her baby’s life and give her the best chance of being born healthy. Instead, the doctors induced labor and it went on for 22 hours. During that period of time, the baby did not get enough oxygen and suffered brain damage in the form of cerebral palsy. She cannot care for herself, her head is too small (microcephaly) and she suffers seizures and is often in pain.
The hospital claims that it offered the mother a Caesarian Section when she arrived but she refused and by refusing “tied the hands” of the hospital. It had no alternative, it claimed, other than induction of labor and a vaginal delivery. The mother admits that the doctors offered her a C-section but says she refused when they told her if she had a C-section, her baby would either be born dead or be brain damaged. Needless to say, the hospital denies telling that to the mother.
This case is not over. Big verdict cases are almost never over after the jury returns its verdict. The hospital and the doctors will file post-trial motions asking for judgment in their favor notwithstanding the jury’s verdict or for a new trial or, in the alternative, for an order reducing the amount of the damages. If they are not successful with the trial judge, they will appeal and seek either a judgment in their favor or a new trial. Very frequently, during the long post-trial process, the parties will agree to a settlement.
Based on the experience of the past, it is highly unlikely that the badly damaged little girl will ever get to keep all the money the jury awarded her. This is not a good system for either patients or health-care providers.