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$28 Million Judgment in Birth Injury Federal Tort Claims Act Case

A couple successfully sued an Illinois hospital and several doctors and nurses for a severe brain injury that occurred during the caesarian section of their son. The couple was awarded $28 million in a judgment entered by a federal judge.

The Federal Tort Claims Act
While the vast majority of birth injury cases are litigated in state court, the Federal Tort Claims Act provides an alternative avenue for families seeking compensation in traumatic birth injury or brain injury cases. The Federal Tort Claims Act, or FTCA, allows plaintiffs to sue the United States for torts such as negligence that are committed by individuals working for the United States. These cases must be conducted in federal court, but the federal judge applies the tort law of the state where the act occurred. While the United States usually holds sovereign immunity and cannot be sued, the FTCA is an exception to sovereign immunity and treats the United States much like a private citizen in that it can be liable for torts committed by those acting on its behalf.

Brain Injury Occurs Due to Oxygen Deprivation Pre-Birth
On July 30, 2009, around 2am, Patoya Bryant, while 37 weeks pregnant, was admitted to Memorial Hospital of Carbondale with pregnancy complications. Multiple times that night, the fetal heart rate was charted, and the fetal heart rate patterns were found to be regular. An ultrasound examination was then conducted by an obstetrician, and the fetus was found to be healthy.

In the morning, the fetal heart rate began to show signs of serious issues. The obstetricians continued to monitor the heart rate throughout the morning. As the beats per minute progressively worsened, signaling oxygen deprivation, the doctors decided to conduct an emergency caesarean section. However, the doctors waited until the morning of July 31, 2009, over 30 hours after Ms. Bryant was first admitted, to perform the caesarean.

Ms. Bryant’s child, Sean, was delivered with no heart rate. After 10 minutes of chest compressions, intubation, and epinephrine, Sean was revived. However, he suffered a severe brain injury due to oxygen deprivation prior to birth that resulted in a life-long disability. Sean must receive around-the-clock care as he is unable to take care of himself due to the brain injury.

Ms. Bryant and spouse Sean Cobbs Sr. sued the hospital, the obstetricians, and the nurses under the FTCA. Bryant and Cobbs argued that the injury occurred at the hospital, using fetal heart rate and respiratory calculations to show that the brain injury occurred 40 minutes prior to birth.

The family settled with the hospital and nurses for $1,600,000, and on December 23, 2013, Illinois federal District Court Judge Herndon entered a judgment for $28 million against the obstetricians. The award included $3,216,827 for lost earnings; $15,165,708 for future medical expenses; $231,713 for past medical expenses; $5,000,000 for loss of quality of life; $3,000,000 for pain and suffering; $2,000,000 for disfigurement; and $1,000,000 for risk of future harm. Judge Herndon based his decision on the medical records, stating that the cause and timing of the brain injury were both known and fully under the responsibility of the government.

If your loved one suffered a traumatic birth injury caused by medical malpractice at a government-run hospital such as a VA hospital, you can sue in federal court through the Federal Tort Claims Act. Levin & Perconti can assist you with this important decision.

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