A Michigan woman in a birth injury lawsuit has been awarded almost $13 million by a jury.
The lawsuit alleged that Genesys Regional Medical Center made mistakes during the delivery of the woman’s daughter, disfiguring the girl and restricting her from the full use of her arm.
The lawsuit stated that during the January 2008 delivery, the baby’s shoulder became lodged underneath the pelvic bone, a condition that is known as shoulder dystocia.
Reported instances of shoulder dystocia have greatly increased in recent decades, perhaps as a result of a corresponding increase in average birth weight.
Shoulder dystocia can often be dealt with successfully during delivery, but the lawsuit argued that the doctor pulled down on the baby’s head too much, causing an injury to the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves near the shoulder. The lawsuit claimed that the doctor should have recommended a cesarean section or used a different method that would place less stress upon the baby.
The hospital said that the mother received appropriate treatment and that there were no complications that indicated that a cesarean section was necessary.
The baby was born with a disfigured arm. Now five years old, she has undergone several surgeries and continues to wear a brace on her malformed arm. Doctors have classified the injury as permanent and have said that it will require continued therapy.
A suburban Chicago man has accepted a $17 million settlement in a brain injury medical malpractice case.
Alexander Williams of Harvey, Illinois alleged that he suffered serious brain injuries after medical personnel at the University of Chicago Medical Center failed to diagnose an infection when Williams was treated there in 2003.
Williams currently has trouble speaking, is confined to a wheelchair and is not able to use the left side of his body, including his left eye. The settlement will enable him to undergo physical and occupational therapy and receive daily nursing care.
According to news reports, Williams visited the emergency room at the University of Chicago Medical Center on September 6, 2003 with a temperature of 101 degrees, a severe headache, a rapid heart rate and pain in his chest and back. Williams was born with a heart defect and had previously had endocarditis, which put him at risk for subacute bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the heart.
According to the complaint filed in the case, hospital officials failed to test for the condition and instead gave Williams ibuprofen and released him — only to have him return to the emergency room with the same symptoms two days later. According to court documents, the condition was eventually diagnosed, but the delayed diagnosis meant that surgery could not be performed until 17 days later, when heart tissue had already been destroyed by the infection.
According to recent studies, diagnostic mistakes account for anywhere from 26 percent to 63 percent of all medical malpractice claims.
Some still argue that high payments in medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of health care, but an examination of the facts shows that this claim is false.
Between 2000 and 2011, health care spending increased by 97 percent, but the value of medical malpractice payments decreased by 12 percent. Research shows that total medical malpractice payments have continued to decrease, that such payments account for a small percentage of health care costs and that most payments are for very serious injuries.
The nonprofit group Public Citizen reviews data on medical malpractice cases each year. In its most recent report, for 2011, the group found that medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf had dropped for the eighth consecutive year, and had reached their lowest level since 1991.
In 2013, medical malpractice payments on doctors’ behalf accounted for only 0.12 percent of national health care costs.
According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, 80 percent of 2011 medical malpractice payments compensated victims for serious injuries such as brain damage, quadriplegia, injuries requiring lifelong care and death.
Medical errors are a serious problem with grave consequences. It is estimated that more than 700,000 Medicare patients experience a serious adverse event that is preventable each year. In 80,000 of those cases, the error contributed to the patient’s death. In contrast, only 9,758 medical malpractice payments were made on doctors’ behalf in 2011 — all leading Public Citizen to conclude that most medical malpractice errors do not result in litigation.
Disciplinary actions hold physicians accountable for medical errors, improper diagnosis and other types of medical malpractice. They allow state medical boards to work with and examine doctors. However, a recent review of data by the Chicago Tribune revealed that the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation takes a relatively small number of independent disciplinary actions against doctors, choosing instead to rely on other states’ investigations.
The review found that the department took action against fewer than 30 Illinois doctors for improper diagnosis or medical errors. However, the agency disciplined more than 100 physicians after other states’ medical boards found they had provided improper care or engaged in misconduct. Nationally, Illinois presents one of the highest out-of-state investigation reliance rates.
In one case, the Illinois medical board received a letter stating that a doctor had committed a medical error that resulted in a patient’s death. In a deposition, he admitted that he falsified records to cover up the mistake. The letter arrived three years ago, but the agency has taken no apparent disciplinary action against the physician.
Patient advocates said that taking action after another state has done so is important, because it helps prevent an incompetent doctor from simply practicing in another state. However, those cases are also the easiest to pursue, and experts say that an overreliance on such cases may indicate that the medical board is not working on the more difficult investigations.
Hundreds of lawsuits have alleged that mothers taking Zoloft and other antidepressants during pregnancies suffer birth injuries to their children. Now, a bellwether trial has been scheduled in multidistrict litigation.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe is presiding over 475 cases in the multidistict litigation in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. She has scheduled the first bellwether trial for November 3, 2014.
The lawsuits allege that the plaintiffs’ use of Zoloft and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) caused their children to suffer birth injuries. The injuries included persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, which affects the heart and lungs and has a fatality rate of 10 percent. The injuries also included craniosynostosis, which is a cranial deformity that can cause seizures; omphalocele, a condition in which internal organs form outside an infant’s body; ventrical septal or atrial septal defects; and clubfoot.
Judge Rufe selected 25 cases to serve as bellwether trials in the multidistrict litigation. She is also presiding over another multidistrict litigation involving allegations that mothers’ use of Effexor caused their children to suffer birth injuries. There are 52 cases in that litigation.
Zoloft, also known as sertraline, was introduced by Pfizer in 1991 and is prescribed for depression as well as for panic, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
The cases add to concerns about the safety and effectiveness of SSRIs in treating depression, particularly among pregnant women.
Republicans have strongly criticized President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, but they have struggled to articulate a common alternative vision for health care. While House Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare more than 40 times, there has been less unity on proposals that replace it.
One proposal involves new limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.
Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, is one of several Republicans pushing for the proposed legislation, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act, place new restrictions on medical malpractice suits and provide more access to health savings accounts.
However, some Republicans oppose the concept of a big healthcare bill that would make sweeping changes. Instead, they propose a targeted approach with smaller bills that would make limited changes within Obamacare.
The Affordable Care Act sets minimum standards for health insurance coverage. It requires most Americans to purchase health insurance and provides subsidies for low-income people to get coverage. Opponents have criticized the legislation as government interference in the marketplace.
Many states have passed legislation limiting the amount of non-economic damages, such as those for pain and suffering, that can be recovered in lawsuits over medical malpractice. In other states, including Illinois, such limits have been ruled unconstitutional. At the federal level, the Supreme Court has ruled that punitive damages in any lawsuit may not exceed compensatory damages by a ratio of more than nine to one.
A federal court in Illinois has ordered Abbott Laboratories to produce documents it said were “long overdue” in lawsuits alleging birth injuries caused by the anti-seizure medication Depakote.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered the company to “exercise all avenues available” to produce approximately 4,000 documents related to the case “as soon as possible.” Plaintiffs had previously raised the issue of insufficient production of documents with the court.
The lawsuits were filed by mothers who claim that taking Depakote during pregnancy caused birth injuries in their children. The lawsuits claim that the children were born with conditions including heart defects, neural tube defects, spina bifida and other congenital malformations and injuries.
The plaintiffs include a woman who was prescribed the anti-seizure medication during her pregnancy and whose daughter was diagnosed with severe scoliosis that threatened her lungs and heart. In another case, a woman took Depakote before she knew she was pregnant, and her child was born with an extra digit. A third case involves a woman who took Depakote during her pregnancy, which she alleges was the cause of her son’s undescended testicle, which required surgery.
Depakote, also known as valproic acid, is used as a mood-stabilizing and anti-convulsant medication. It is often used to treat biploar disorder, epilepsy and migraine headaches. The drug is manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, a global pharmaceutical firm headquartered in North Chicago.
Telemedicine, the use of technology to examine, diagnose and treat patients remotely, is a growing practice. An estimated 10 million people rely on telemedicine. Patients are able to show their symptoms to doctors via video communication services. Doctors are able to monitor patients’ conditions after they are discharged from the hospital. Surgeries have even been performed remotely using robotics.
The ability to practice medicine remotely has led more physicians to seek licensing in multiple states, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The growth of telemedicine has led some to propose streamlining the process, but critics are concerned that easing licensing requirements could put patients at risk and increase the incidence of medical malpractice.
Proponents of telemedicine have suggested that states recognize each other’s licenses, arguing that doctors take national exams and must meet federal standards. However, state medical boards also protect patient safety by disciplining doctors who fail to follow state rules.
Large health care and telecommunications firms that seek telemedicine growth have proposed an interstate compact for medical licensing, which would provide legal protections for patients and doctors in any state that participates. Proponents argue that patient safety could even be improved through the use of an interstate system because data on investigations of doctors could be easily shared between states.
A lawsuit against the U.S. government, filed by the parents of a child who was born severely brain-damaged, has been settled for $6.5 million.
Kasie and Hignio Rivera of Austin, Texas filed the lawsuit in federal court against Darnall Army Medical Center after the birth of their son in 2008. The lawsuit alleged that doctors did not respond to evidence that the excessive use of oxytocin was overstimulating the mother’s contractions, causing severe distress to the baby. As a consequence, the lawsuit claimed that doctors failed to perform a timely cesarean section.
The lawsuit alleged that while the mother was in labor, the use of oxytocin was frequently stopped by nurses who noticed decelerations in the heart rate of the baby, but that the doctors ordered that it be resumed each time. According to the lawsuit, this cycle continued despite the fact that fetal monitors showed that the baby was in distress. The lawsuit argued that the signs of distress indicated that oxytocin should have been halted and a C-section performed.
According to news reports, the mother said that when her son was born, he did not move or cry. Tests shortly after birth showed that the child had severe brain damage, according to the lawsuit. The Riveras’ child is now five years old. He cannot walk or talk, and he must be fed with a feeding tube. His parents said that the settlement will ensure that his medical and other care expenses are covered.
A Vietnam veteran and Chicago-area resident will receive a $12 million settlement from the federal government in a medical malpractice case.
John Johnson is a Vietnam combat veteran who served in the Army from 1970 to 1971. In 2007, Johnson was admitted to Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois for oral surgery. After he was put under anesthesia, Johnson went into cardiac arrest, which resulted in brain damage. Johnson filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital.
According to the lawsuit, doctors did not prepare adequately for the surgery and failed to properly monitor Johnson’s heart condition after he received anesthesia.
Johnson’s attorney said that the $12 million settlement will be used to cover Johnson’s medical and living expenses, and that his family is looking for a house that will accommodate his daily care needs. Johnson’s attorney said that this was one of the largest malpractice settlements paid out by the U.S. government.
The Hines V.A. Hospital is a 471-bed facility, located on 147 acres 12 miles west of downtown Chicago. The hospital also operates six community-based outpatient clinics in the Chicago area. In fiscal year 2010, the hospital served more than 600,000 patients with a budget of more than $510 million.