An Observer article recently discussed a hearing in a birth injury case that has made its way all the way to the United State Supreme Court. The main issues in the legal matter to be decided by the high court has nothing to do with the underlying medical negligence in the birth injury suit. Instead, the disagreement stems from the application of a state law which affects how much of a settlement in the birth injury case the state can take as reimbursement for medical expenses it claims to have paid to the involved family.
Birth Injury Lawsuit
This case started like so many others. A family went to the hospital for the delivery of their child, only to have terrible complications arise. According to information provided in the article on the case, the main doctor performed a cesarean section. However, he botched the job and the child suffered severe injuries, including a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. On top of that she was born deaf and blind and now, at the age of twelve, cannot walk, crawl, or talk.
After a birth injury lawsuit was filed the family learned of the doctor’s troubled background. It seems that the medical professionals who they believe caused their daughters situation actually had a history of drug problems. He had previously used false prescriptions to obtain pills for himself. The doctor denied using drugs during this child’s delivery (or before it). Yet, not long after the ordeal he did voluntarily surrender his medical license.
In any event, the legal matter seemed to be resolved when a $2.8 million settlement was arranged between the involved parties.
Sadly, that was actually just the beginning of the issue, as the family has since been fighting to keep a substantial portion of the settlement that it arranged to pay for the care for their child. It turns out that a state law allows the government to place a lien on up to a third of an award if they are equal to or below the total Medicaid expenditures claimed to have been paid by the state. In this case the state claims that it spent $1.9 million on the child’s care. As such they placed a lien on nearly a million dollars of the settlement.
In counterargument, the family’s attorney argued that federal law contradicts state law and does not allow the state government to take the property of Medicaid recipients in this way. One complexity to the case is what portion of the settlement counts toward medical expenses and what is for pain and suffering. The settlement itself does not delineate. That failure to delineate creates confusion, as the state likely can only place a lien on a portion of an award for medical expenses.
A hearing is set for this week where the parties will argue on the application of the federal law and how it comports with the facts of this particular case. All those who work in the medical malpractice arena are well served by following along with the final resolution as it may impact many different types of cases down the road and the ability of successful claimants to receive the full value of their damage award or settlement.
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