Many American tort reformers assert that medical malpractice damage awards are far too excessive. It can be argued that one recent award exemplifies this concern; however, this view only investigates the detrimental effects of large damage awards without accounting for the benefits they provide. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys are particularly experienced in dealing with wrongful death cases.
A Chicago mother who struggled for years to have a child finally gave birth to her son. Despite being born fifteen weeks prematurely, the intensive care unit was able to stabilize the baby. Although the baby survived a very arduous birth, he later passed away because of an accidental sodium overdose administered by hospital staff.
This overdose was the culmination of multiple procedural errors by the hospital. First, the correct amount of sodium was incorrectly entered into the system. It then went unchecked and was administered to the baby. When the attending physician noticed discoloration in the baby, he tested him and discovered absurdly high sodium levels. Instead of rerunning the test, he simply discarded the test as incorrect.
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While the number of mistakes is alarming, it is more startling that almost none of these medical mistakes violate hospital protocols. The parents eventually settled with the hospital for a staggering sum of $8.25 million, the largest sum ever awarded in Illinois for this type of case. At first glance, this amount appears to support the tort reformers arguments above; however, this award represents something far more than damages to grieving parents.
Tort reformers argue that awards as large as this one do damage the health care system as a whole by raising medical malpractice insurance costs, thus disincentivizing doctors from practicing in certain areas. There are also arguments that these parents have no future medical expenses, as parents with a now physically disabled child, so the award should be smaller. While somewhat legitimate, these arguments ignore several realities of the case at hand and large medical malpractice awards in general.
First, addressing the parents’ lack of medical costs, the excruciating facts of this case justify the size of the award. These parents tried for years to have a child and the mother experienced a very difficult pregnancy. It is also very unlikely that she will be able to have another child biologically. Another relevant fact is the amount of blatantly careless mistakes that caused the baby’s death. The baby’s death could have been prevented at least three times. While these facts alone justify the award’s size, the award is also justified on separate grounds.
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An integral aspect to damage awards is the broad spreading benefits that they perpetuate. Following this award, the hospital instituted protective measures that addressed each of the procedural lapses that caused this death. Thus, the large size of this settlement served as a catalyst to hospital procedural reform. While it is possible the hospital would have instituted these changes even if the award had been smaller, history evidences that change is often only championed through punishment. Further, such a large award grasps the attention of other hospitals that will now redress similar procedural errors they have in an effort to avoid this type and size of liability. Creating a deterrent effect, this award will ideally prevent similar deaths from occurring. As a result, this will ultimately reduce the aggregate amount hospitals, and health care in general, have to pay out for damage awards.
So even if you or a family member is the subject of only a minor injury or mistake, you should seriously consider consulting with a medical malpractice attorney at the Law Firm of Pintas & Mullins Law Firm. If nothing else, a medical malpractice lawsuit may ensure that hospitals avoid making that same mistake in the future. While you may not have been seriously injured, another person in another situation may be severely harmed by the same mistake.