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Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is a condition caused by the brain being denied oxygen and/or blood, which are vital to its function. This deprivation can cause permanent damage leading to cerebral palsy or other developmental delays when it occurs during childbirth. Proper monitoring during a woman’s pregnancy and labor can help doctors determine if the baby is in distress and allow them to take action to protect the infant’s health.

Unfortunately, in the case of a three-year-old girl, proper monitoring did not occur during her birth, and she has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. In 2008, the victim’s mother went to Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. The obstetrician did an ultrasound and found no heartbeat. He told the woman the baby was dead. The mother allegedly insisted she could feel the baby kicking. For over an hour, nothing was done to help the mother or her unborn child. When a technician finally did arrive to conduct an ultrasound with a newer machine, he found a heartbeat and the mother was rushed in for a c-section. While the baby was indeed alive, it had been deprived of oxygen. If the hospital had paid to have the proper technician on duty, it was essentially proven that the child would probably not require a lifetime of medical care and expense.

At the medical malpractice trial, the obstetrician was found not liable for malpractice. The hospital was found to be 100 percent responsible because of the outdated equipment that had not been serviced in 10 years and the lack of a qualified technician on site at the time of the crisis. The technician that ultimately found the baby’s heartbeat had to be brought in from home because the hospital did not employ a technician on Sundays.

The jury awarded the plaintiffs $78 million in the lawsuit filed in Philadelphia, PA, which may seem like a huge amount of money. But the jury correctly took into account how much it will cost to care for the girl throughout her life (through evidence offered at the trial) and the pain and suffering she and her mother have endured already and may endure in the future. She will most likely always require special medical care and will never be able to support herself. Our hearts go out to this little girl and her strong mother who cares for her and her brother.

We note that in Virginia and in North Carolina, the legislature has enacted "caps" on damages that may be entered as a judgment in medical malpractice cases. These caps are considered unconstitutional in some states, but have not been overturned by the highest courts of VA and NC to date.

MH

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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