Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Rules That Illinois Mother Is Time-Barred From Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim in Arteaga v. United States
A Seventh Circuit case from earlier this year highlights the importance of learning about the statute of limitations before you file a medical malpractice lawsuit for birth injury. In Arteaga v. United States, an Illinois mother was barred from filing a claim on behalf of her child due to a provision in the Federal Tort Claims Act requiring the claim to be filed in the appropriate federal court within two years of the injury.
Gabriella Arteaga gave birth to her child in 2004. Prior to the birth, she received prenatal care services from the Erie Family Health Center in Illinois. The staff at the Health Center never informed her that her child would be too big to push out vaginally, or that she should opt for a Caesarian. At the time Arteaga gave birth, the baby girl weighed 11 pounds, and her shoulder became stuck in Arteaga’s pelvis. The result was that nerves in the baby’s shoulder were injured, resulting in a limited range of motion in her right arm that has lasted until the present day.
A few months after the birth, Arteaga gathered the medical records and
consulted an attorney about filing a lawsuit. The attorney recommended
against suing the hospital, claiming that there was no sign the hospital
was negligent and it looked as though the midwife did everything she could.
In 2006, Arteaga consulted a second attorney, who agreed to represent
her, only to withdraw in 2008. The attorney informed Arteaga that she
could still sue, as the Illinois statute of limitations was eight years
because her child was still a minor. However, the attorney did not mention
that the Federal Tort Claims Act had no extended statute of limitations
for suing on behalf of a minor.
Arteaga finally found another lawyer in 2009 and sued Erie Family Health Center and the Health Center’s midwives in Illinois state court in 2010, claiming medical malpractice with regard to the prenatal care she received. She did not realize at the time that, because the Health Center receives federal grant money, its employees are considered federal employees. That meant any claim Arteaga made had to be under the Federal Tort Claims Act. After Arteaga exhausted her administrative remedies under the Tort Claims Act, she filed her case in federal district court. The district court dismissed her case on the grounds that the statute of limitations had already run, and Arteaga appealed.
The Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court. Arteaga argued that the statute only began to accrue when she first learned that the Health Center’s negligence might have caused the birth injury in 2009. However, the Seventh Circuit noted that the statute accrues when the party is first aware of the injury and that an employee of the defendant, acting within the scope of his or her employment, might have caused the injury. That took place shortly after Arteaga gave birth, when she received the medical records. Therefore, Arteaga was barred from bringing a claim.
Arteaga v. United States is a sad example of what can happen when an attorney does not perform due diligence. Arteaga trusted what her attorneys told her and they let her down.
At the same time, this case is helpful to those thinking of hiring a Baltimore birth injury attorney and filing a lawsuit. When filing a lawsuit against a hospital, it is important to learn whether it receives federal money, and therefore whether the Maryland statute of limitations applies.
Wais, Vogelstein, Forman & Offutt has more than 100 years of collective experience dealing with medical malpractice and birth injury cases. Located in Baltimore, Maryland, the firm represents residents in Maryland and Washington, D.C. If you have a birth injury or other medical malpractice issue, contact us today for a free consultation.