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Nearly $13 million award in birth injury lawsuit

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.

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Study shows medical malpractice claims are not causing increase in health care costs

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.

Family of Junior Seau objects to NFL concussion settlement, says wrongful death claims should be treated differently

The family of Junior Seau, an NFL player who committed suicide in 2012, has objected to the league’s $760 million proposal to settle a lawsuit by thousands of former players over the risk of concussion injuries. Seau’s family said that wrongful death claims should be treated differently from injury claims.

The deal has already been rejected by a federal judge, who felt it did not allocate enough money for such a large group of plaintiffs. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, $5 million would be allocated for each former player with a diagnosis of a brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head during NFL practice and play. However, attorneys for Seau’s family said that only a minimal payment of a few thousand dollars would be available for family members of retired or deceased players.

Seau died in 2012 from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. Later studies of his brain confirmed that he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease that results from repeated head trauma and that can cause dementia and aggressive behavior.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Philadelphia, has 4,500 plaintiffs. Up to 20,000 former players could eventually receive payment.

After the judge’s rejection of the NFL’s settlement offer, experts said that the league would likely have to negotiate a higher settlement. Seau’s family asked the judge to take their concerns into account in deciding on future settlement proposals.

Jury awards $55 million in birth injury case

A jury awarded a large verdict to a West Virginia couple whose son suffered birth injuries leading to cerebral palsy.

After a two-week trial, the jury awarded $55 million to the parents, finding St. Luke’s University Hospital and a doctor liable for the injuries.

Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that affects muscle control, body movement, posture, reflexes and balance. It can be caused by damage to the brain during birth.

The lawsuit alleged that the baby was not getting enough oxygen during the November 2009 delivery, but the doctor failed to notice. The baby became stuck in the birth canal, and the mother began hemorrhaging. The doctor allegedly used vacuum extraction to dislodge the baby, resulting in more oxygen deprivation. The lawsuit alleged that the doctor should have used a cesarean section.

The parents claimed that their son suffered permanent injuries as a result of the delay in emergency action. At the age of four, the boy continues to suffer from difficulties in physical movement and language development.

Although the jury awarded $55 million, the family is expected to receive less than that, due to an agreement reached prior to the verdict. The details of the agreement have not been disclosed.

The hospital maintains that it provided adequate care.

Proposed legislation would limit workers’ comp

In Illinois, legislation has been proposed that would limit employees’ ability to receive workers’ compensation for injuries sustained in accidents on the way to work.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R, Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 2622, which would prevent requirements for employers to provide workers’ compensation if a worker was not traveling specifically for work purposes when he or she was injured.

The proposed law states that an injured worker may only receive compensation if the injury “arises out of and in the course of employment” and while the worker is “actively engaged in the duties” of his or her employment.

The legislation would deal with cases such as one recently decided by the Illinois Supreme Court, in which a Springfield pipefitter accepted a temporary job at a Rock Island County power plant. The worker stayed in a motel to avoid the 200 mile commute. On the way to work, the man and a coworker hit an icy patch of road and crashed. The worker was seriously injured.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission found that the worker should receive compensation, but the state high court ruled that the worker made a personal decision to take the job knowing the length of commute required, and that he was therefore not a traveling employee.

Senate Bill 2622 was introduced before the Supreme Court ruling.

Study shows Illinois agency relies heavily on other states’ inquiries as basis for physician discipline

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.

Montreal Maine trustee rebuffs wrongful death claimants’ reorganization plan

The bankruptcy trustee for Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd said that a recent reorganization plan — filed by families of people who died when one of the company’s trains derailed and exploded — is “not a serious plan.”

Robert J. Keach, the trustee, said that the plan, filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bangor, Maine on January 29, “will go nowhere” and is “facially non-confirmable,” according to Bloomberg News.

A group of wrongful-death claimants submitted the plan, which would allocate 75 percent of $25 million in insurance to the families of people who died in the July accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Claimants seeking compensation for property damaged in the derailment and subsequent fire would receive the other 25 percent.

Keach said that the plan relies on the assumption that insurance proceeds, a Canadian asset, could be transferred to the United States. An attorney for the official victims’ committee said that proceeds from the Canadian insurance policy would not be turned over to a U.S. court without an agreement between both countries’ courts.

Keach also said the plan would be a bad deal for the majority of claimants. He said the plan was proposed by a “splinter group” not participating in the official victims’ committee, and that it was a tactical move related to their resistance to Keach’s plan to move the wrongful death lawsuits from Illinois to Maine.

Zoloft birth injury litigation develops

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.

Railroad companies ordered to pay back wages to injured workers after whistleblower investigation

After a whistleblower investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the agency ordered two railroad companies to pay back wages to five injured, suspended workers.

OSHA found that Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Grand Trunk Western Railway Co. violated federal law by disciplining and/or suspending the five employees after reports of workplace illnesses or injuries. The companies disciplined the workers and suspended them for between one and 60 days with no pay after they reported illnesses or injuries.

An OSHA spokesperson said that companies may not retaliate against workers for reporting a workplace injury, and that this type of retaliation was far too prevalent in the railroad industry.

The companies were ordered to pay the employees compensatory and punitive damages, back wages plus interest and attorney’s fees. In addition, the disciplinary information must be removed from the workers’ personnel files, and the companies must post information about whistleblowers’ rights in the workplace.

Grand Trunk Western was ordered to pay four workers, including three conductors and a carpenter, a total of $85,580. Union Pacific was ordered to pay one worker $11,289.68 along with interest and attorney’s fees.

OSHA is responsible for enforcement of the whistleblower provisions of 22 separate statutes that protect workers who report specific violations of the law in certain industries. Workers who believe they have been victims of retaliation may request an OSHA investigation.

Republicans consider limits on medical malpractice lawsuits as alternative to Obamacare

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.

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The law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County. Briskman Briskman & Greenberg also represents injured people throughout Wisconsin, including Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Madison.
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