A jury in Cook County, Illinois has awarded $53 million to a 12-year-old boy and his mother, who alleged a birth injury caused by medical malpractice resulted severe and permanent brain damage for the child. The birth injury was reportedly suffered during the 12 hours of fetal distress just before he was delivered.
The verdict, which is just shy of the record medical malpractice damage award in that region and the highest for any birth injury case, followed a month-long trial in which the boy’s guardian sued the University of Chicago Medical Center and several doctors, asserting the mother’s physicians didn’t timely recognize or act on the signs of distress that should have prompted an emergency cesarean section during her labor and delivery.
According to news reports and court records of the case, plaintiff was full term, at 40 weeks into her pregnancy, when she came to the hospital around 2 a.m. She reported the baby’s movement had slowed significantly, which is a sign of fetal distress. Unfortunately, as her lawyers would later outline at trial, the hospital at that hour is run by student residents. Evidence was presented that showed the students were either occupied, asleep or unable to handle this level of an emergency. Tests conducted as soon as she was admitted immediately showed the unborn child was in fetal distress. Yet for 12 hours, she essentially went unattended by doctors when what was needed was an emergency C-section.
Lawyers presented evidence showing the child basically was suffocating inside the womb during that time. When he was finally delivered, the boy was not breathing. He was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). He was ultimately revived, but he was on life support. It was touch-and-go for weeks, as he remained in critical condition.
The lack of oxygen to his brain during that time resulted in a condition known as cerebral palsy. He requires around-the-clock care. He is unable to to perform basic tasks, such as bathing, eating and dressing.
Doctors at the hospital reportedly told the mother his condition was due to hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen. However, they did not reveal who might have been responsible for this. Later, they told her his brain injury was from a totally different condition.
The hospital contended the mother was treated for an infection, which could also be a potential cause of cerebral palsy, and insisted the boy had normal blood-oxygen levels when he was born.
Plaintiff’s attorneys dismissed that notion outright, saying every doctor who has treated him over the course of his life has diagnosed him with the same thing: Asphyxia, birth injury, birth asphyxia. Meanwhile, he said the hospital presented three doctors who testified that “suddenly there was a secret infection” that the mother was never told about.
The amount awarded to the family might have been less had the hospital agreed to negotiate. However, defendant hospital reportedly refused to engage in settlement talks. A hospital spokeswoman disputed that claim, saying they did engage in negotiations both before and during the trial.
Although the amount of $53 million may sound like a lot, it’s by no means a windfall when you consider the amount of care this boy is going to need for the rest of his life. The majority of the money was awarded for past and future medical expenses, based on what it has already cost and will cost to care for him 24 hours a day for the next 65 years.
If your child has been the victim of a birth injury in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
$53M verdict for birth injury, June 30, 2016, By Lauraann Wood, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
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Maree v. Neuwirth — Nursing Home Neglect Lawsuit to Proceed With Additional Defendants, June 20, 2016, Miami Birth Injury Lawyer Blog