Tragic Incident Involving Infant Demonstrates Assignment of Liability

Any injury suffered by a child under medical care is especially tragic. However, litigation after such an injury is essential for families who often have to do so in order to afford future medical costs down the road. Recently, the parents of an infant sued a group of doctors and a medical equipment provider alleging that the defendants caused their daughter’s brain damage. The jury found another doctor, one who was not sued, to be one hundred percent responsible for the girl’s injuries. The parents appealed this decision but the decision was upheld by the appeals court.

After a stay in the neonatal ICU, the infant in question was sent home with her parents with a device which recorded her breathing and heart rate. This device alerted the parents when problems arose and every so often sent the recorded data to her doctors. After a while, the device began to reach capacity quickly and would delete some of the information as it was programmed to do. The infant’s doctors said they did not receive some of the information they should have received, which proved to be the cause of the tragedy. The infant was again hospitalized and found to have permanent brain damage due to lack of oxygen. The parents alleged that this brain damage caused when the infant was being monitored by the breathing device.

The parents argued that the failure of the device to properly send information to the doctors caused the doctors not to perform surgery which would have prevented the brain injuries their daughter sustained. The equipment provider argued that the infant’s original injuries occurred before she was born and progressed to her current injury.

For the parents to hold the medical equipment provider liable for their daughter’s injuries they must prove several factors: First they must prove that the defendant owed their daughter a duty to conform to a specific standard of conduct. Then they must prove that the defendant failed to live up to this standard that their conduct caused their daughter’s injuries, both in fact and legally, and finally, they must prove that their daughter suffered actual harm. The jury found that the equipment provider owed a duty to the infant and that this duty was breached. However, breaching a duty of care is not enough to hold someone liable for damages. The factor at issue here is whether the equipment provider’s failure to live up to the required standard was the cause of the child’s injuries.

The jury was presented with a great deal of evidence that a doctor who was not a defendant in the lawsuit failed in his duty before the equipment stopped sending data as it should have. The jury assigned all the blame to this doctor because, if the doctor had acted differently, steps would have been taken to help the infant at that time and the later failure of the equipment would not have happened or mattered. The appeals court points out that the equipment merely monitored the infant but did not provide or initiate treatment. Even if the machine had been functioning properly, the damage to the infant probably would have happened anyway. The appeals court decided that the jury acted reasonably when it believed that this was the case. The appeals court did not independently evaluate the evidence heard by the jury. The appeals court reviewed the jury’s decision for manifest error, whether the jury acted reasonably or not. Given the amount and contradictory nature of the evidence presented, the appeals court found the jury came to a reasonable conclusion.

This case shows the importance of including as a defendant every person who could be responsible for the harm suffered. Medical malpractice cases are extremely complex and often involve a variety of people and a large number of legal issues. This is why hiring an attorney who is well-versed at taking these cases to trial is essential.

The experienced lawyers at the Berniard law firm can help you understand and resolve these complex issues.