Medical Panel Deprives Birth Injury Victim of Compensation
In a recent birth injury case, Mwangi v. Merlin, the Massachusetts Appeals Court panel affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims against two physicians. This case illustrates the problems with medical panels and arbitration panels that have been established in many states to take these case out of the hands of capable juries, and which deprive plaintiffs the right to a trial by jury. As a result of the rulings discussed below, a child is now potentially deprived of compensation because of a physician’s negligence.
On August 15, 2007, Mary Karugia, mother of Eliel Karanja Mwangi, was admitted to Brockton Hospital when she was 39.5 weeks pregnant for the purpose of inducing labor. Dr. Ratliff evaluated Karugia and induced labor using an intravenous infusion of oxytocin. Karugia gave birth to Mwangi at 1:30 pm on August 16. At the time of delivery, it was noted that the baby suffered from a shoulder dystocia. On August 20, 2007, Mwangi’s pediatrician evaluated him and diagnosed him as having an Erb-Duchenne palsy as birth trauma. He referred Mwangi to Boston’s Children’s Hospital for an evaluation, where the resident physician diagnosed him as having a right brachial plexus birth palsy.
The plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Cohen, viewed the medical records that
were offered as evidence and wrote a letter in support, stating that the
physicians at Brockton Hospital breached the applicable standard of care
by failing to recognize the various risk factors both before and during
the labor that led to the birth injury; failing to notify Mwangi’s
mother of the risk factors; and failing to inform Mwangi’s mother
of the option to have a Caesarian section, which would have prevented
the birth injury from occurring. Dr. Cohen also claimed that once labor
had begun, the obstetric team failed to identify two labor abnormalities
that were also risk factors for brachial plexus birth palsy. He concluded
by stating that there were no acceptable reasons to induce labor and that
Mwangi’s mother should have been given the option of a Caesarian.
The medical tribunal that reviewed the evidence presented found it insufficient and sided with the hospital physicians. The plaintiff then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reviewed the evidence in a light most favorable to the plaintiff’s side. The panel concluded that Dr. Cohen’s assertions were not supported by the medical records. The records stated that Mwangi’s mother had had two spontaneous vaginal deliveries without experiencing complications, in direct contradiction of Dr. Cohen’s claims that her previous birth should have alerted physicians to the possibility of complications. Furthermore, the panel found evidence that Mwangi’s mother had sought to have an elective induction, due to family needs, and not that she was forced into that option, as Dr. Cohen claimed. Finally, the panel found that the alleged risk factors and birth abnormalities were overstated. Brockton Hospital had tested Mwangi’s mother for one risk factor (diabetes), leaving obesity as just the other risk factor, with no indication as to how the physicians should treat her labor differently as a result. While there may have been birth abnormalities present, to the panel, it appeared that the appropriate standard of care had been followed, and Dr. Cohen’s letter did not state what other care the physicians should have provided. The Court of Appeals panel therefore affirmed the medical tribunal’s dismissal of plaintiff’s case.
Here in Maryland, minors who have been injured in a birth accident have until the age of 21 to file a lawsuit against the hospital and/or medical staff responsible. Thankfully, the law in Maryland does not force you to take your claim in front of a biased medical panel. Instead, you have the right to a trial by jury.
If you suffered a preventable birth injury, contact a Baltimore birth injury attorney today.
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.