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$130 million awarded in severe birth injuries case

Although large medical malpractice awards have influenced hospitals and doctors to systematize and update their health care procedures to increase patients' safety, the awards have done nothing to fuel spiraling health care costs or to make malpractice premiums any higher. In Maryland and other states, restricting such awards has not resulted in promised benefits. One recent case, however, gave fuel to more false cries for tort reform. A jury awarded $130 million against a hospital and its employees for birth injuries sustained in failing to monitor a fetus and its pregnant mother.

The lawyers for the hospital called for more malpractice tort reform and bemoaned a "jury out of control." However, they ignore the reality showing that tort reforms of the last 25 years have failed. If anything, tort reform in medical malpractice cases has only created more lawsuits and less reform of deficient safety procedures.

The reported case was against an obstetrics nurse and St. Charles Hospital in a conservative New York county. The jury determined that the Long Island hospital and the obstetric nurse had failed to properly monitor the pregnant mother and her fetus, missed important signs of distress, and then failed to take corrective action. The baby was born with severe brain damage and a form of cerebral palsy.

Jury members stated afterwards that they believed that the medical errors were preventable. If history repeats, the award may have a significant effect on reform of the process of obstetrics and birth injuries. For example, anesthesiologists were historically extensively sued for repeated mistakes in the administration of anesthetics in hospital procedures. There was a high rate of death and a spate of repeatedly high jury verdicts in anesthesiology malpractice cases.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists then conducted a comprehensive assessment. They revamped their procedures for increased safety, improved the machinery and technology, and improved training. Now the lawsuits against anesthesiologists have dropped dramatically and their malpractice premiums took a precipitous drop. In Maryland and other jurisdictions, reform of obstetrics practice by the profession is the likely answer to continuing tragic birth injuries, and it's hoped that this case will hasten that process.

Source: Insurance Journal, Do Big Malpractice Awards Really Increase Medical Costs?, No author, Aug. 25, 2013

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