Birth Injury: Devastating Cases that Require a High Burden of Proof

A medical malpractice case that results in a birth injury often results in years of medical bills, special needs assistance and specialized care. These situations are always devastating to the family of the child, as the reduced quality of life and financial implications can be extremely overwhelming.

State laws protect patients victimized by medical malpractice to some extent, but the high cost of litigation and expert analysis during a case offers a very complicated, sometimes frustrating evaluation of risk-versus-reward.

Misdiagnosis Results in Birth Injury

Take the case of Colin Gourley, whose unfortunate circumstances were showcased in the popular documentary, “Hot Coffee.” Gourley, a teenager from Nebraska, suffered a serious brain injury due to lack of oxygen while he was still in his mother’s womb.

Colin’s mother, Lisa Gourley, was pregnant with twins – Colin and his brother, Connor – in 1993 when suddenly, just days before she was expected to go into labor, there was a decrease in the babies’ movement and she felt something was wrong. Lisa’s physician, however, dismissed her claims and sent her home, reassuring her that everything was alright.

It would turn out, however, that everything was far from all right. Lisa had been misdiagnosed as having two placentas when she only had one. Had she been properly diagnosed, Lisa would have been treated as a high-risk pregnancy and decreased chances of complications and birth injury to her son.

The Gourleys took their claim to court in an attempt to recover the millions of dollars in damages and expected medical costs that would be required to provide Colin with adequate care. The jury awarded the family upwards of $5.5 million dollars in damages, which was subsequently reduced to just $1.25 million because of Nebraska’s cap on medical malpractice compensation.

Though the Gourleys won their birth injury case and were awarded damages for the negligence of their physicians, Colin’s situation is far from resolved. He requires the assistance of a walker full-time, and he will be under special-needs care for the remainder of his life.

An Increasingly Difficult Road to Justice

An estimated 195,000 people are killed every year by medical errors, while just 15,000 to 19,000 malpractice suits are filed each year. And while medical malpractice payouts were at a 20-year peak in 2003, they have been steadily decreasing and reached a ten-year low in 2011.

Caps on medical malpractice compensation vary throughout the country, and can likely be partially attributed to the steady decline in frequency and value of medical malpractice payouts.

The other culprit for this trend, though, is likely the high cost of taking these claims to court. Though a 2011 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study showed that between 75 and 100 percent of physicians can expect to face a malpractice claim during their career, it’s no coincidence that such a low number of medical malpractice cases are ever actually taken to court.

In a 2006 study published in the NEJM, researchers found that for each dollar of compensation in a medical malpractice case, 54 cents were allocated for administrative expenses, which include court fees and the hiring of attorneys and experts throughout the case.

In that same study, authors detailed that although claims without substantial evidence of error are not uncommon, 72 percent of them are denied any compensation whatsoever.

This article sheds light on the fact that the legal system regarding medical malpractice and birth injury claims is an arduous one, and oftentimes the victims are left to deal with the financial struggles on their own.

If you have any experiences or thoughts regarding birth injury or medical malpractice cases, share them with us in the comment box below. If you are looking for legal representation in regards to a medical malpractice claim, contact Davis Law Group today at 206-727-4000 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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