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$28 Million Award for Illinois Baby's Hypoxic Brain Injury

The tragedy happened in 2009: a couple went to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale in Southern Illinois for the birth of their son. According to legal papers, test showed everything was fine when the mom arrived at the hospital. Beginning at about 40 minutes before his birth and continuing until 10 minutes afterward, the baby was deprived of oxygen. He suffered a severe hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, which cost him his chance at a normal life.

This tragedy occurred despite the presence of three board-certified obstetricians who should have noticed signs of fetal distress and performed a C-section to prevent the injury. Sadly, it appears that a combination of factors -added up to catastrophe.

The family has already settled a claim against the hospital’s parent company Southern Illinois Hospital Services and the nurses. In a lawsuit brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, the company sought to hold the three obstetricians accountable for their failure to live up to the appropriate standard of care during the baby’s birth. This is a somewhat unusual legal procedure in a medical malpractice case, but the important thing for the family here was that their case was heard by a federal judge.

After poring over the voluminous medical evidence in the case, that judge remarked that the defense’s explanation for the child injury simply weren’t supported by the evidence. “It is disingenuous…to argue [the baby’s] hypoxic-ischemic brain injury occurred a time other than the only time he was subjected to severe oxygen deprivation for a period clearly long enough to cause his brain injury,” the judge wrote.

He ordered the defendants to pay the family more than $28 million in compensation for the baby’s past and future medical costs, pain, suffering, limited future earnings and other losses, including loss of a normal life. That amount will be set off by the $1.6 million previously awarded to the family in its settlement.

By its very nature, financial compensation awarded after a birth injury is heartbreaking, both in its process and in its result. No amount of money could make up for a devastating, lifelong injury to a previously-healthy child, and no judge or jury wants to make such a calculation. The best we can hope is that the full cost of his care will be covered and that he will be given the opportunity for as full and happy a life as possible.

Source: Courthouse News Service, “$28 Million Medical Judgment Against USA,” Joe Harris, Dec. 23, 2013