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Settlement on behalf of a minor child and his parents for the child’s brain injury and cerebral palsy allegedly caused by the negligence of the defendant medical care providers in treating the child in the first days of his life.
The matter dates back to 1997 when the child was born at 26 weeks gestation. Due to the extreme prematurity of his birth, he was immediately admitted to the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. The first six days of his life were relatively uneventful. He was put on antibiotics for the first few days and fed through an IV and watched very closely.
Eight days after his birth, however, the child’s condition took a severe turn for the worse. Around 10:00 a.m., he was assessed by a nurse practitioner and found to be greenish in tone. As his antibiotics had been discontinued two days earlier, they were immediately reinstituted. The preliminary diagnosis was suspected necrotizing enterocolitis and sepsis. Later that day, it was determined that the child did in fact have a possible necrotizing enterocolitis and he was rushed to a different hospital for surgery. The child “coded” when placed on the operating table; and it was only due to the heroic efforts of the doctors at this second hospital that the child lived. Nevertheless, he experienced a 15-30 minute period of hypoxia and ischemia, during which he was not receiving blood or oxygen to his brain. As a result, the child has been diagnosed with severe and permanent cerebral palsy. He is now 12 years old and continues to require significant medical care.
A lawsuit was brought against the hospital where the child was born and two of the neonatologists who cared for him. The plaintiffs’ theory was that two days before the child took the turn for the worse, a lab test revealed a high white blood cell count that was potentially indicative of infection. Despite this, no effort was made to investigate for potential sepsis and to initiate antibiotics in response. The plaintiffs alleged that, had the antibiotics been instituted shortly after the high white blood cell count was discovered, the chain of events and injuries that followed would not have occurred.
The defendants raised several strong defenses. First, the defendants argued that the high white blood count was not indicative of infection, but was the natural and expected result of steroid medication administered a day earlier. They thus argued that they had not been negligent in discontinuing the periodic white blood cell count readings or in discontinuing the antibiotics. The defendants also argued that the problems the child experienced, including necrotizing enterocolitis and intraventricular hemorrhage, are known risks of severely premature birth, that were not caused by any negligence of the defendants.
The case was litigated over a period of several years, with numerous factual depositions being taken of all the medical care providers involved in the baby’s care, as well as some 20 expert witness depositions. The case was settled during mediation for $1,475,000.00.