After a two-week trial, an Arkansas medical malpractice jury returned its verdict in the amount of $46.5 million for the severe permanent brain damage suffered by a newborn caused by untreated jaundice at birth that developed into kernicterus.
As a result, the now two-and-a-half-year-old child has locked-in syndrome: she has normal cognitive functioning and can think, feel, and openly show her emotions like a normal child, but she is confined to a wheelchair and will never be able to talk, walk, feed herself, or take care of her activities of daily living on her own.
The child will require 24-hour care for the rest of her life as well as intensive medical treatment for as long as she lives.
The child’s parents filed their Arkansas medical malpractice lawsuit against a physician, his employer, and the hospital where their child was born in June 2014, alleging that their negligent failure to treat their daughter’s jaundice immediately after birth unnecessarily led to her developing kernicterus.
What Is Jaundice And Kernicterus?
According to the CDC, jaundice is the yellow color seen in the skin of many newborns. Jaundice happens when a chemical called bilirubin builds up in the baby’s blood. During pregnancy, the mother’s liver removes bilirubin for the baby, but after birth the baby’s liver must remove the bilirubin. In some babies, the liver might not be developed enough to efficiently get rid of bilirubin. When too much bilirubin builds up in a new baby’s body, the skin and whites of the eyes might look yellow. This yellow coloring is called jaundice.
When severe jaundice goes untreated for too long, it can cause a condition called kernicterus. Kernicterus is a type of brain damage that can result from high levels of bilirubin in a baby’s blood. It can cause athetoid cerebral palsy and hearing loss. Kernicterus also causes problems with vision and teeth and sometimes can cause intellectual disabilities. Early detection and management of jaundice can prevent kernicterus.
The parents in the Arkansas medical malpractice case alleged that the defendants failed to follow generally accepted national standards for determining a newborn’s bilirubin reading and treating jaundice in a newborn within the first 24 hours of life, by failing to repeat blood testing and by failing to begin treatment of the newborn’s jaundice using phototherapy lights.
The parents’ Arkansas medical malpractice lawsuit alleged that the newborn’s bilirubin level in her blood became so high after she was discharged to home that she suffered profound brain damage.
The defendants argued to the Arkansas medical malpractice jury that they were not required to adopt or follow the national protocols for diagnosing and treating jaundice in newborns under their care. The plaintiffs countered that the defendants had the technology and the medical equipment to treat their newborn’s jaundice but consciously failed to use the technology and employ the equipment.
The Arkansas medical malpractice jury found that the defendants had failed to follow the national standards and that the national standards applied in the case.
If you or a loved one suffered a birth injury in Arkansas or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Arkansas birth injury lawyer, or a birth injury lawyer in your state, who may investigate your birth injury claim for you and represent you in a birth injury case, if appropriate.
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