Doctors and other medical professionals are expected to know how to proceed in medical emergencies, especially when they are performing a job within their particular specializations. One of the most important areas of medicine is obstetrics, in which physicians and nurses help in the lead up to, and process of, the birth of a child. Because there are two (or sometimes more) lives at stake, these procedures are very important to get right, no matter who the doctor is.
Unfortunately, for one Pennsylvania family, a mistake by a government doctor has left an indelible mark on their lives. According to a court decision, during the birth of the couple’s child, a doctor employed by a federally-funded health center unnecessarily used forceps to facilitate the delivery. This use of the forceps resulted in the child’s skull being cracked and part of his brain being destroyed.
A U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania found that the doctor’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the child’s birth injury, and that the injuries suffered were compensable through a monetary damages award. The court ordered the U.S. government to pay $42 million in damages, $9.28 million for future care costs, and over $32 million to replace lost future wages and benefits. The latter damages award rested upon the assumption that the child would have hypothetically received an associate’s degree and gained employment as an adult. Now, the judge said, the baby will not only be unable to do so, but will need full-time care for the rest of his life.
Because birth injuries occur at the very beginning of life, estimating how much damage is done can be tricky. However, because an infant has a whole life ahead, any permanent problem is likely to cause great harm. When a doctor’s mistake causes long-term injuries, the doctor and his employer may be liable to compensate the family for such harm.
Source: thelegalintelligencer.com, “US Government Hit With $42M Birth Injury Verdict in Pa.,” P.J. D’Annunzio, April 20, 2017