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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

But for the grace of God: Abigaile LeBron and caps on medical malpractice damages

After vaginal bleeding from unknown causes in the third semester of her pregnancy, Frances Lebron had a very difficult labor, and gave birth by C-section to Abigaile LeBron in an Illinois hospital in 2005.

It's hard to know exactly what went wrong. A jury agreed that Frances' Ob-Gyn doctor and nurse had not performed appropriate and timely tests on Frances, and/or didn't recognize, and appropriately intervene upon discovery of, a non-reassuring fetal heart tracing, and/or inappropriately continued labor-delaying ("tocolytic") medication, and/or failed to perform the C-section promptly enough.

The poor little girl suffered severe and lasting brain injury, and cerebral palsy, among other results, and will not be able to feed herself; she needs a gastronomy tube. She'll need substantial help for the activities of daily living, probably throughout her life. Of course, that will cost a lot of money – which the jury awarded.

The Illinois Supreme Court recently decided an appeal of that decision. The state Supreme Court ruled that a newly legislated cap on damages for medical malpractice is unconstitutional. The result is that the jury's award will indeed be able to help Frances care for Abigaile.

There, but for the grace of God, go I. Twenty years ago, doctors at a Harvard teaching hospital slowed my wife's premature labor with such a "tocolytic" drug (Turbutalene), and continued the drug too long, as with Frances – but my son was born healthy, and my wife had no ill effects. We were lucky.

I'm sorry for the anguish suffered by Frances and Abigaile, and by their doctor and nurse.

Advice for people who've suffered catastrophic medical errors:
Ask potential lawyers if you'll be faced with a cap on damages in your state.

Read another story on a C-section error. Thanks to Illinois attorney Martin Dolan and Lauren Bishop for discussing and forwarding this story.

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