Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Representing families in birth injury cases is one of the most emotionally difficult things we do at Rice & Bloomfield.  The birth of a child is usually a most joyful event for the parents and family. However, an estimated 29 births out of 1,000 in the United States results in injury to the baby from birth trauma, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health. That is almost 4,000 birth injuries per year in Los Angeles.  Some injuries are minor and resolve quickly. However, for those babies who suffer the most serious trauma – from lack of oxygen during labor or delivery to those with permanent, disabling injuries to an arm caused by negligence of a doctor or nurse – life will never be easy or normal for them or their families.

While some serious birth injuries are not preventable – those with genetic causes, for example – many of the most serious can be traced to the inattention of the nursing staff or delay in responding to potential distress of the baby by the delivering doctor. Fetal monitoring should alert the doctor and hospital staff if a fetus is under stress so that timely treatment decisions can be made about how to address that situation before it causes serious and permanent harm.

If a hospital isBirth_Injury_thumb under-staffed or the nurses don’t pay sufficient attention to alarming changes in the fetal heart rate, the oxygen the fetus needs to stay healthy during labor and delivery can be interrupted. Sometimes, the nurses are concerned about the health of the fetus, but the doctor cannot be located or delays responding to those concerns. The result can be a condition called “perinatal asphyxia” or “fetal hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.”

I am a trial lawyer. A personal injury lawyer in the San Fernando Valley, who is proud to represent victims of car crashes and dangerous conditions that cause falls, which injure or kill. But, I am perhaps proudest of the work I do as lawyer representing victims of medical malpractice. It is my work as a medical malpractice attorney that has brought me the most satisfaction and made the biggest difference in the lives of my clients.

Unfortunately, limits on the amount a victim of medical negligence can recover in California have made it increasingly difficult to help those injured by health care workers. A $250,000 cap on damages, which was passed in 1975, has never been adjusted for inflation.

packactnewlogo4.png We know who has been hurt by this decades old cap – victims of medical negligence and the families of people who die because of medical mistakes. The prestigious Journal of Patient Safety estimates that 440,000 people die each year because of preventable medical mishaps, a figure also cited by the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s a population the size of Atlanta – killed off each year by negligent health care providers. Only a very small fraction – estimated at less than 5% of medical malpractice victims or their families – receive any compensation for their injuries or loss.

This is the third in a three-part series about birth injuries in Los Angeles County.

Macrosomia is a condition in which a fetus’ birth weight is much greater than is normal during pregnancy. Generally, macrosomia is defined as a birth weight greater than 4000 grams or 8 pounds, 13 ounces. It is a condition that affects one in ten pregnancies.

Some factors that contribute to macrosomia – genetics, ethnicity, and the size of the parents – cannot be controlled. Other factors that may predispose a fetus to unusual growth in utero can be identified and should be addressed by the obstetrician. If the mother has gestational diabetes, excessive weight gain or diabetes mellitus, her fetus is at risk to develop macrosomia, which is associated with birth trauma to the baby and mother. Women whose pregnancies go on longer than they should are also at risk to develop macrosomic babies.

Encino%20Delivery%20Med%20Mal.jpgThe larger the fetus, the greater likelihood that the baby and/or mother will suffer injuries during delivery. If there is ultrasound evidence that the baby is very large, the doctor needs to take this into consideration when discussing delivery options with the parents.

A woman with a history of having had several large babies without difficulty vaginally may be an appropriate candidate for a vaginal delivery. A petite woman pregnant with a first baby that appears on ultrasound to weigh nearly ten pounds, should be advised of the risks of vaginal delivery and advised to undergo a planned Cesarean section.
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This is part two in a series of three relating to birth injuries in Los Angeles County.

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a term that is used to describe a group of chronic conditions that result from injury to the brain, usually occurring before, during or shortly after birth. It generally affects motor function – how the body moves. Children with cerebral palsy may have mild symptoms affecting coordination or may be completely unable to control motor function, making it impossible to sit or stand independently.

Med%20Mal%20Los%20Angeles%20Baby%20Foot%202.jpgCerebral palsy can occur when oxygen to the fetus is interrupted during labor or delivery. Monitoring of the baby during labor is done to detect changes in the baby’s heart rate which may signal a problem. If the amount of oxygen the baby is getting is reduced or cut off during labor, the baby’s heart rate will change and its ability to recover from the stress caused by contractions will diminish, signaling a potentially catastrophic injury if appropriate medical intervention is not taken in a timely fashion.

It is the job of the obstetrical nurse to monitor the fetus during labor and communicate any significant changes in the fetal heart rate and tone to the obstetrician in a timely fashion. It is the doctor’s duty to respond promptly if conservative measures (changing the mother’s position, administering oxygen to her, for example) do not improve the fetal heart rate.

If the nurse is unskilled or inattentive, she may not appreciate the fact that the baby is in distress, putting the baby at risk of injury. A doctor who does not respond to a nurse’s concern in a timely fashion also puts the baby at risk. Over time, the lack of oxygen can cause the brain damage that results in cerebral palsy.
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This is the first in a series of three relating to birth injuries in Southern California

Every year, hundreds of babies in Los Angeles County are born into the world seriously handicapped because of medical negligence. Birth injuries are among the most devastating injuries that can occur when a doctor or nurse is careless or inattentive. If a mother’s prenatal course is routine and there is no indication of any problems with the fetus she is carrying, the parents anxiously await their new arrival. They pick out names and dream about the future with their new little boy or girl.

Med%20Mal%20baby-nursery.jpgWhen things go awry during the labor or delivery and the baby is born with brain damage or is otherwise injured, everything the parents hoped for and planned is shattered. The baby may have to remain in the hospital long after the mother is discharged, so there are frequent trips back to the hospital. Preparing the home for the baby’s discharge is no longer about the color of the nursery or the style of the crib. There may be equipment that must be obtained and medical techniques to be learned.

A Rhode Island Hospital has been fined for the 3rd instance this year of a doctor performing brain surgery in the wrong side of the patient’s head. Last Friday, a chief resident started operating on the wrong side of an 82-year-old patient. In August, a similar error caused the patient’s death.

These types of issues are not limited to Rhode Island as this issue is similar to battles we often face at Rice & Bloomfield. What is most frightening is that in Los Angeles, as in all of California, the most that could be recovered from litigation of this type of error is $250,000. From that amount must be paid litigation costs and attorneys fees. Because of that problem, many victims of medical malpractice often cannot find an attorney who will accept there case.

Los_Angeles_Juliani.jpgAlthough we are here to help people who have been injured, we must also make a living. We cannot continue to operate when faced with these type of limitations. This has become a common problem faced by injured patients throughout the state.

Last Sunday the Los Angeles Times printed an article indicating that a family was seeking $45 million from King Harbor hospital for medical malpractice causing death of a patient. The story was misleading, leaving readers with the impression that medical malpractice victims can get rich from lawsuits.

When doctor’s negligence, when their mistakes hurt people, the 1975 MICRA law, prevents patients from obtaining justice. The law limits recovery for pain and suffering to $250,000. When first passed, it preventing patients from recovering full compensation for their injuries.

los_angeles_times.gifNow, 30 years later, as costs of litigation have gone up but the $250,000 has not changed. As a result, people injured by doctors errors are finding that they often cannot get a lawyer to take their case.

Over the past year, hospitals in Washington left “foreign objects? in 36 surgery patients. 21 patients got surgery on the wrong body part. A Washington law passed last year prevents public disclosure of these types of medical negligence. The law was supported by the Washington State Hospital Association.

Unfortunately, this type of medical malpractice is universal and does occur in Los Angeles area hospitals as well. Although California does not have a similar law, almost anytime a medical malpractice case settles, the settlement includes a confidentiality clause to prevent the patient from telling anyone about the doctor or hospital’s negligence.

Woodland_Hills_Injury_Attorney.jpgAs a result, in California, Washington, and other states, patients do not have access to information that could be of great assistance in choosing a hospital or a doctor.

Los Angeles patients are often injured by infections which they get because they are in the hospital for treatment for another condition. The giving patients an appropriate antibiotic in the hour before surgery has been found to reduce infection risks, as has good hand-washing and other practices. Yet not all hospitals perform such preventive measures with consistency risk to a patient of contracting a new illness when seeking medical care may depend on the hospital where care is provided.

If a person is severely injured in a car crash, they may suffer significant injury such as a neck or back disk injury requiring hospitalization and surgery. Some patients contract infections while in the hospital which could make them worse and certainly would prolong recovery.

Each year an estimated 1.7 million hospital patients develop infections which adds thousands of dollars to the cost of treatment. Giving patients an appropriate antibiotic in the hour before surgery has been found to reduce infection risks, as has good hand-washing and other practices. Yet not all hospitals perform such preventive measures with consistency.

Caps on damages in medical negligence cases are making it increasingly difficult for a growing number of patients, injured by preventable medical mistakes, to access our courts.

When Dr. Smith saw Teresa, a 29-year-old single woman, in 2005, she was concerned about what felt like a small lump in her breast. Because she did not have a family history of breast cancer and because she was so young, Dr. Smith decided not to order a mammogram, even though good medical practice required that he do so.

Eighteen months later, Teresa is dying of breast cancer. The tumor she had has grown and spread. What would have been a treatable disease, if Dr. Smith had acted as a reasonably careful physician, is now a death sentence.

Under our civil justice system, Teresa suffered a serious harm for which the law says she should be compensated. Compensation is intended to accomplish two goals: the first is to hold Dr. Smith accountable for thr injury to Teresa caused by his negligence; the second is to discourage future negligence by Dr. Smith and others in similar circumstances.

In California, if Teresa files a lawsuit, the most she can recover because her doctor didn’t order a routine test as he was required to do, is $250,000. After the cost of hiring expert witnesses, filing fees, court reporters and after attorneys’ fees of 20-25% are paid, Teresa will receive compensation of perhaps $100,000 to $125,000 for the premature ending of her life due to a careless medical error.
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