An appellate court in Maryland has upheld a $20.6 million damage award to a family whose son suffers cerebral palsy due to birth complications. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejected an argument by defendant hospital that attorneys for the child and his parents failed to provide legally sufficient evidence the condition was caused by delivery.
Plaintiffs were initially awarded $21 million in mid-2012, though that amount was later slightly reduced to $20.6 million as a result of state-initiated damage caps on non-economic damages.
The appellate court’s decision in Harbor Hospital Inc. v. Norfleet was unanimous, 3-0, finding the jury’s decision was a clear case of a “battle of the experts.” Both sides prevented what could be considered sufficient evidence, but ultimately the jury chose to believe those witnesses presented by plaintiff.
Our Tampa birth injury lawyers know not all cases of cerebral palsy are the result of medical malpractice. Most are caused by disruptions in brain development in the womb, prior to birth. However, in cases where a pregnancy was healthy and progressed seemingly normally with no real complications to speak of until the time of delivery, a diagnosis like this can be a red flag something went very wrong during delivery – even if the doctors or nurses never convey that to parents directly, as often they will not.
Cerebral palsy is a broad term used to describe a group of chronic disorders that impair movement control due to damage of the developing brain. It’s one of the most common causes of chronic childhood disability, and about 20 percent of the time, it’s caused by birth injuries. An estimated 10,000 infants are diagnosed with the disease annually, as are an additional 1,500 preschoolers. When the condition is not diagnosed until several years after birth, a family may still reserve the right to pursue litigation, despite the traditional statute of limitations. Cases will vary based on the circumstances.
In the Maryland case, mother was admitted to the hospital in the fall of 2002 at 32 weeks pregnant – 8 weeks shy of her due date. She had high blood pressure, and doctors were concerned for her health and the baby’s. They decided to induce labor. The next day, while in labor, the fetal heart rate monitors indicated the baby had low oxygen.
Plaintiff attorneys and expert witnesses would later argue such a reading should have prompted hospital staff to quickly move for an emergency C-section. Instead, they decided to allow labor to continue several hours. The child was born with the umbilical cord around his neck, and he’d been deprived of oxygen.
He was later diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. This means while he is not mentally impaired, he has trouble with the movement of his arms and legs, and will likely always require the use of a wheelchair.
Hospital experts, meanwhile, argued vital signs taken from the baby after delivery were not indicative of oxygen deprivation, and further called the umbilical cord situation “so novel and extraordinary” it could not have been foreseen by physicians.
This is important because in medical malpractice cases, it’s not so much whether there was a poor outcome, but whether doctors acted in a prudent manner given their expertise and experience and the unique circumstances of the case.
The hospital argued there was not enough evidence of a causal relationship between the child’s condition and the hospital’s alleged negligence. A request for summary judgment, however, was rejected and a jury found in favor of plaintiff.
On appeal, the appellate panel rejected the hospital’s argument that their own expert witness testimony was so overwhelming, the court erred by allowing the matter to be decided by a jury. Further, the court noted the jury is entitled to believe all of an expert witness’s testimony, some of it or none of it at all.
The ruling was upheld.
If you have been a victim of medical malpractice, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
CSA Affirms $20.6M award in birth injury case, Sept. 26, 2014, By Steve Lash, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
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Wilkins v. Conn. Childbirth & Women’s Ctr. – Birth Injury Claim Revived, Dec. 10, 2014, Tampa Birth Injury Lawyer