$29 Million Verdict Upheld in Illinois Brain Injury Case

Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm understand that the birth of a child should be a joyous occasion for the child’s family, and it is critical that all available measures are taken to protect infants and their mothers before and after the delivery process. Unfortunately, in some cases, the negligence of doctors, nurses, and other hospital employees leads to serious medical errors that result in life-long birth injuries.

The Illinois medical malpractice case of Arroyo v. United States is an example of a medical mistake that had a devastating impact on the lives of a local family. According to the lawsuit, government-employed doctors at the Erie Family Health Center failed to diagnose and treat a fairly common blood infection that caused a newborn to suffer severe brain injuries. The child, now 8-years-old, is a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy who cannot talk, walk, or even swallow.

As the Daily Herald is reporting, an Illinois federal appeals court recently ruled in favor of the newborn’s family and affirmed the district court’s ruling finding his doctors guilty of negligence. The court reasoned that obvious signs and symptoms of the neonatal infection were visible early on, and preventative measures should have been taken to avoid severe and permanent brain injuries.

One of the most significant issues in this case occurred when the newborn was released from the hospital. At that time, doctors informed his parents that the child suffered brain damage due to a blood infection that his mother transmitted during birth. However, the doctors failed to mention that treating this infection with antibiotics would have reduced or completely prevented the damage. As a result of this critical omission, the family did not realize that the doctors did anything wrong, and that a medical mistake actually contributed to the injury.

The child’s mother finally learned about the use of neonatal antibiotics after she gave birth to her second son more than a year later, and eventually realized that she had grounds for a lawsuit. After a $29.1 million verdict was handed down to help the child’s family pay for a lifetime of medical expenses, the government appealed. It argued that the two year statutory time limit had expired, barring recovery in this case.

The appellate court disagreed. Although two years is the standard time limit to file this type of malpractice case, the court found that the clock did not begin running until the family knew or reasonably should have known that the birth-related injury was tied to the doctor’s failure to administer antibiotics. This did not happen at the time of the child’s discharge. Doctors told the family that the brain injury was caused by a birth-transmitted infection, but said nothing about a malpractice-related cause. They did not explain or even suggest that prompt treatment of the infection could have averted the injury or made it less serious. As a result, the family reasonably assumed that hospital staff did everything they could to prevent harm and did not suspect any other cause.

It would be unreasonable and inefficient to expect injured patients to pour through their medical records, searching for a doctor-related cause in every case. Accordingly, the law provides that the statutory time limit begins only when there is sufficient knowledge of a doctor-related cause. Such a rule encourages open and honest communication by doctors, encouraging them to alert patients to the possibility of a medical error in order to avoid liability.

Fortunately, the statute of limitations did not prevent the family from recovering in this case. However, it is important the patients injured by medical mistakes contact an Illinois medical malpractice attorney in a timely manner. It is critical that you contact a legal professional as soon as possible if you are the victim of medical malpractice in order to protect your legal rights.