August 1, 2011

Hospitals and doctors should be held responsible for any medical malpractice they are responsible for. One state supreme court recently held that this is true, in at least some cases, even if the victim of the malpractice is covered by a state program meant to compensate victims while shielding doctors and hospitals from excess liability. Such was the ruling in a recent case involving a birth injury that caused a baby to suffer brain damage, possibly as a result of the doctor’s and hospital’s negligence.

The now 10-year-old girl was born after her mother was involved in a car accident. Although the baby required resuscitation after her birth, she appeared to stabilize and was transferred to the nursery. Unfortunately, the baby then went into respiratory distress and developed kidney and liver problems. Approximately one week after her birth, she hemorrhaged and stopped breathing, resulting in permanent and significant brain damage.

Her parents brought a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of their daughter, claiming that poor care she received from the doctor and by the hospital were the cause of the damage to her brain.

The state of Florida has a no-fault compensation fund for birth-related brain injuries that occur in the course of labor, delivery or in the immediate post-delivery period. This fund aims to protect doctors and hospitals and limit their liability for medical malpractice. As a result, families who qualify for compensation from the fund cannot sue doctors or hospitals for malpractice.

In this case, however, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the parents could continue their lawsuit against the hospital and obstetrician because the injury did not occur at the time of delivery or immediately thereafter. So, the parents are not limited to collecting from the fund.

This is an important result for parents who believe that injuries suffered by their newborn children may have been the result of medical malpractice. Although this case took place in Florida, it affirms that hospitals and doctors can be held responsible for medical malpractice even in situations where their states’ legislatures have passed tort reform laws in an attempt to limit medical malpractice payouts.

Source: American Medical News, “Brain-damaged girl’s parents can sue hospital and doctor, Florida court rules,” Alicia Gallegos, Aug. 1, 2011


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