Judgments and verdicts in cases alleging birth injuries caused by medical malpractice frequently make headlines. That is not necessarily because these cases occur all the time, but because the judgments are more sizeable than in some other cases. Awards are often large because they are based on compensation over the course of one’s life as a result of the harm. For children just born, the years that they will be affected by the injury are significant, increasing the damages.
Birth Injury Damages
Of course, because of the size of some verdicts, these cases are often pointed to by “tort reform” advocates as a sign of “jackpot justice.” Those wishing to take away the legal rights of injured patients find value in plucking out random birth injury decisions and using them as some sort of “proof” that legal rules have to be changed.
This represents a gross misunderstanding about how legal damages work. These damage awards are not guessed out of thin air, but based on calculations about the real consequences of an injury on one’s life which was caused by negligence.
Even then, many families must fight to ensure they receive a full award after a judgement. There are frequently many competing claims on part of the funds. For one thing, if any public money was spent on the plaintiff’s care (usually via Medicare or Medicaid programs), then the state may seek to recoup those funds out of the judgement. Often that reimbursement drags out for months (or even years), extending the time a family has to wait before seeing any recovery. And in some cases, the reimbursement demand is excessive. In fact, a case recently reached the U.S. Supreme Court challenging one state law demanding large reimbursements following judgments in these cases.
Birth Injury Case At U.S. Supreme Court
As reported by the Hickory Record, the original case involved claims by a family that their child suffered severe disability, including cerebral palsy, as a result of negligence during her birth by emergency C-Section. The family filed a lawsuit against the medical provider and eventually settled the matter for $2.8 million. However, a law where they lived (North Carolina) demanded that one-third of that settlement automatically be handed over to reimburse the state for Medicaid payments. This automatic reimbursement did not account for specific bills paid. Instead, it was simply a shortcut that made it easy for the state to receive large sums from families affected in this way.
Eventually, the state law was questioned and challenged all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fortunately, in a recent opinion, the high court struck down the state law as inconsistent with federal requirements that prohibited this exact conduct. The opinion noted that the federal anti-lien provisions do not allow a state to pluck an arbitrary number out of thin air as reimbursement. Instead, the reimbursement must be tied to actual payments made. This is a logical decision that will hopefully ensure that no family in a birth injury case (or any civil action) lose an excessive portion of their judgment or settlement
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