When a baby suffers from a brain injury at birth, it is a devastating event for the entire family. The family is stricken with the knowledge that the happy healthy baby that they were expecting has received a birth injury that will render that child disabled for the rest of their lives. In cases of this nature where medical malpractice is involved, it is especially devastating for the parents. Many problems can affect the medical malpractice lawsuit in these cases. There are generally more than one doctor present at deliveries in hospitals these days. When there is more than one doctor, it can be difficult to determine which doctor deviated from acceptable medical practice of the day.
One case that involved a child who was delivered by an obstetrician in New York City, left this question unanswered. One of the doctors who attended the birth admits that he was negligent, but claims that the obstetrician who was responsible for the delivery of the child was responsible for the larger portion of blame. He contends that he was not involved in the actual delivery or prenatal care of the mother. He contends that the vast majority of brain damage occurred during that time of the delivery and not after the delivery when he became involved in the case. The doctor stated that he was responsible for caring for the newborn infant when the baby born. He stated that the primary injury to the child occurred when the obstetrician who delivered the child failed to administer oxygen to the mother when the child compressed the umbilical cord during labor. The obstetrician failed to notice that the child was not getting enough blood or oxygen through the umbilical cord until the child had been hypoxic for some time.
Following the delivery of the baby, the obstetrician handed the infant off to the Long Island pediatrician who was standing by. He contends that he was negligent because when he observed the child’s blood tests, he noticed that there was a very high bilirubin count. A high bilirubin count is indicative that the child has had a traumatic birth and that the baby may have suffered from a brain injury. He states that he was also negligent in that the child also had a high hematocrit level which would also tend to indicate that the baby had suffered brain damage during birth. If he had acted immediately with appropriate oxygen therapy, there is a chance that the child would not have suffered as severe a brain injury as he did. However, the pediatrician failed to act and some undetermined time after the child was born, it was discovered that the infant was severely brain damaged.
The parents of the child filed a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages from the medical malpractice that existed in that delivery room. The parents won the lawsuit and were awarded over two million dollars in damages. The pediatrician filed a motion that would prevent the family from recovering more than $450,000 from him personally as a result of the injury to the baby. He contends that he was not the person who caused the greatest amount of damage to the baby and that he should not have to share equally with the cost of damages that the obstetrician caused. The court evaluated the decision of the trial court and determined that the jury was not wrong in awarding damages to the parents and that the sum that was awarded was not extreme. They also contend that the testimony that was given at trial did not provide any type of identifiable manner in which the percentage of guilt could be divided between the two doctors. For that reason, the appeals court determined that the prior order of the court was accurate and that the responsibility would be shared equally between the two doctors.