There have been two recent medical malpractice verdicts in Maryland—the first, in Baltimore City, was a birth injury malpractice against Johns Hopkins Hospital that yielded a jury verdict of $55 million. The second was earlier this week, where a Baltimore City jury found that a child born with cerebral palsy at Harbor Hospital was deserving of $21 million.
The verdicts themselves are somewhat misleading. Like the news reporting that a lawyer has filed a ten million dollar case, the actual number is almost meaningless. High figures are often used by lawyers to ensure that any actual verdict comes in below that number. If the judge or jury returns a verdict in excess of what the plaintiff asked for, there could be complications to collecting the entire amount.
For medical malpractice and other personal injury verdicts, the numbers are important only to enhance the “street cred” of the lawyers. The victims will never recover such high amounts, because Maryland is one of the states that have a cap on non-economic damages. This means that the family is entitled to money for clear-cut damages, like past and future medical bills, lost wages, and adaptive equipment. But money for pain, suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, inconvenience, disfigurement and other “fuzzy” damages is strictly limited. The jury doesn’t know it, but after the verdict the judge will cut whatever number they give. For the $55 million Johns Hopkins medical malpractice case, the final number is closer to $29.6 million. That is because the jury believed that the child’s injury came to a cost of $26 million in non-economic damages, but Maryland law cuts that figure to $665,000 (based on the date of the malpractice).
The usual responses to medical malpractice verdicts include:
But, according to a recent Baltimore Sun article, even the American Medical Association and the American Tort Reform Association acknowledge that there is no data to show that doctors leave the practice. Instead, they cite “anecdotal evidence.”
Research even shows that medical malpractice payments tend to go down, and that such payments represent only a fraction of the cost of the health care system (See Public Citizen).
The response from the medical community should be preventative—they should pledge that these injuries will not happen; that they will work harder to train their doctors and nurses; and that they will institute safeguards to prevent families from suffering. Birth injuries are terrible and costly. If doctors and their insurance companies don’t pay for them, then taxpayers will. Children with birth injuries will often require medical assistance, and will often be on social security.
In late June, a medical malpractice trial against Johns Hopkins was decided by a jury to the tune of $55 million dollars. Because of Maryland law limiting what are called “non-economic damages” (pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, disfigurement, incapacity, etc…), that verdict will be cut by more than half, to $29.6 million.
That was a case about a birth injury. The allegations, simply stated, were that Johns Hopkins was negligent in treating a woman who presented in labor. Her child was not timely delivered, and should have been delivered earlier by emergency cesarean section. Because of the delay, the child was deprived of oxygen, and suffered brain damage. Because of that delay, the child now has irreversible brain injury and will suffer developmental delays.
Part of the backstory behind Hopkins’ failures was the failure of a midwife named Evelyn Muhlhan. Hopkins tried to blame Ms. Muhlhan for the babies injuries, arguing that Muhlhan was negligent when the mother tried the home birth option, well before Muhlhan handed them off to an ambulance to go to Hopkins. Indeed, the evidence seems clear that Muhlhan was negligent. This is a laundry list of the things she did wrong:
That evidence was excluded by the judge, because any negligence by the midwife was irrelevant to deciding whether Hopkins was negligent. The jury may have had evidence to determine whether the baby was injured before arriving at the hospital, but the jury need not decide the cause of any supposed prior injury. And here, after hearing the evidence, the jury decided that the injury was caused by Hopkins, in the last few minutes before delivery.
Muhlhan, like midwifery generally, is one of those polarizing forces. You love her or you hate her. Muhlhan has rabid fans—because of the Hopkins incident, in conjunction with other deviations from the standard of care (including one death during a birth, and three other situations), a website has been created to help her contest the suspension of her certified nurse midwife license and her registered nurse license. By some accounts (here and here), Ms. Muhlhan has left a path of destruction in her years as a midwife.
Expectant parents who want a midwife-led or homebirth should have it, if it is safe. Those parents depend on their doctors and midwives to let them know if it can be done safely. If the birth is high risk, or if there are problems, then the birth should be done in a hospital with access to emergency equipment. The birth process is important, but the most important thing is the health of the baby.
If your baby was injured during a hospital or midwife delivery, contact our birth injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or online for a no-charge consultation. We can help you find out whether your doctors or midwives acted appropriately, or whether they caused your child’s injury. For more information, see our Birth Injury Malpractice page.
There have been some recent medical malpractice trials in Maryland and D.C. over the past few weeks. For anyone who is counting, the scorecard is four plaintiff victories and three plaintiff losses. Looking a little deeper into what that means, consider that most medical malpractice cases which are strong for the plaintiff side tend to settle before trial. The ones that go to trial are the ones where there the two sides either cannot agree on a medical malpractice settlement, or where the plaintiff has an uphill battle for some reason. Statistically, I’ve read that about 70-75% of medical malpractice trials are defense verdicts. So, we’re doing pretty good. Here are some details:
Plaintiff trial victories:
Plaintiff trial losses:
Still at trial:
Trial coming up:
Judge Russell has been on the bench for the Baltimore City Circuit Court since 2007. President Obama nominated him to the U.S. District Court bench, and today he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Judge Russell has good criminal and civil credentials:
The most important information, in my opinion, is his litigation experience. I’ve never appeared before Judge Russell, so I have no knowledge of him other than what I read online. In his five years on the bench, he has presided over 300 trials (80% civil, 20% criminal). Before that, he litigated 13 trials, seven of which were jury trials. This isn’t too bad—he has been with a number of firms, and he definitely has the chops to handle litigation from behind the bench.
You can see his questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee here.
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