In the courtroom, we judge the conduct of professionals, including medical professionals, by the standards of a hypothetically-reasonable and similarly-situated professional.
Obstetricians are judged against obstetricians, usually through the use of expert testimony from an independent obstetrician testifying as to the standard of care. Likewise, nurses are judged against nurses, since we can’t expect a nurse to provide the same range of knowledge and expertise as an obstetrician.
From the outset, then, we can see that different medical professionals owe different duties to patients.
The Standard Of Care In Birth Injury Cases
The question, in all of these circumstances, becomes, “what would a reasonable medical professional with similar education and training have done in this situation?”
In asking this question, attorneys are trying to define the accepted norms within the medical community, a standard of care by which medical professionals should act. And usually, we’re trying to define those norms in order to demonstrate that a particular medical professional, your doctor or nurse, violated them.
Violations Of The Standard
Medical professionals can only be held accountable for violations in the standard of care. Moreover, they can only be held liable for violations in the standard of care that result in harm to a patient.
Standards of care change, or, more accurately, there are as many standards of care as there are medical conditions and patient types. Pregnant mothers, after all, require a wide range of treatments that people with diabetes don’t. The standard of care will be different to account for the differences in medical conditions, as it will change to include patient characteristics.
Examples Of Obstetric Negligence
As a result, there’s no way to provide a definitive list of standards of care that could become relevant in a birth injury lawsuit. Nor is there a way to list all of the ways obstetricians and nurses come to violate those standards.
- Failing to order a necessary c-section
- Administering too much Pitocin, a drug that induces labor
- Failing to properly monitor an unborn child’s vital signs
- Failing to use proper care during assisted deliveries (in which forceps or vacuum extractors are used)
In addition to these more-specific factors, there are also some general failures that often come up in birth injury lawsuits, most notably a failure to communicate properly among the members of a birth team
Proving Medical Negligence
The basic goal of a medical malpractice lawsuit is two-fold: to define the relevant standard of care and show that the plaintiff’s doctor or nurse broke it. As we mentioned earlier, medical malpractice attorneys rely on the testimony of expert medical witnesses to help judges and juries understand these issues.
After those two factors have been demonstrated, your legal team will turn to the question of how the doctor’s breach of standards hurt you, and then to the question of compensation.
Damages In A Birth Injury Claim
Civil lawsuits are filed for financial compensation. In rare circumstances, a plaintiff can also demand injunctive relief, a court order instructing the defendant to stop their wrongdoinga at the risk of harsh penalties. But in most cases, financially-compensable damages are the be-all-and-end-all of compensation in a malpractice suit.
In a birth injury lawsuit, the goal of financial compensation is to make your family “whole” again. A settlement or jury verdict recognizes that your family has been harmed through the wrongful acts of someone else. Compensation is meant to “cancel out” that harm (metaphorically, of course) by making up for all of the damages you sustained.
Economic & Non-Economic Compensation
In practice, birth injury compensation tends to focus on the child plaintiff’s long-term well-being. Of course, estimating how much money it will take to care for a disabled child long into the future is complex. Most families rely on the expertise of a life care planner, a professional with experience analyzing the costs of medical care, long-term care facilities, home modifications and other things that can help your child live a comfortable life.
Generally, malpractice damages fall into two categories:
- Economic damages can be quantified easily.
- Past and future medical expenses
- Physical and occupational therapy costs
- Home modifications and assistive technologies
- Special education expenses
- Loss in potential future earnings
- Non-economic damages are difficult to quantify, but no less important.
- Emotional trauma
- Physical pain
- Long-term suffering
Compensation can also come to include the damages suffered by a child’s parents.