The federal government will have to pay half of an $8 million birth injury settlement, according to Judge Mark A. Kearney. The remaining $4 million will be furnished by Temple University Hospital, where attending physician Clinton Turner delivered a newborn named as “J.M.” in court documents. The names of plaintiffs in birth injury and other medical malpractice lawsuits are often abbreviated as acronyms to protect the identities of minors and their parents.
Birth Injuries Caused By Negligent Care, Federal Judge Says
J.M. was born with a host of severe medical conditions, including cerebral palsy and microcephaly, a congenital anomaly characterized by an abnormally small head. In their initial lawsuit, filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, the boy’s parents accused Turner of waiting a full three hours before attending to the mother after her admission – despite a prior doctor’s diagnosis of decreased fetal movement. Eventually, an emergency Cesarean section was performed, but not before J.M. had suffered extreme oxygen deprivation, his family writes.
Prolonged asphyxia led to a number of serious disorders, the complaint continues, including a seizure condition and global developmental delays. J.M.’s family soon filed a birth injury lawsuit, claiming Clinton Turner and a team of obstetric nurses at the Temple University Hospital had been negligent in the delivery of their child. The parents demanded $100 million in compensation, according to the Penn Record.
Faced by the uncertainty of a jury trial, Temple decided to settle the case, presenting the family with a total of $8 million, a number based on the estimated costs of medical care that J.M. will require during his life.
Federal Government Pulled Into State Court Birth Injury Lawsuit
Most successful medical malpractice claims end in similar circumstances, with the acceptance of a sufficient settlement offer. This litigation took a different path, however, after Temple University Hospital turned around and sued the federal government. Clinton Turner is an employee of the US government, working out of the Delaware Valley Community Health Center, a federally-qualified medical center with five locations in Pennsylvania.
That’s why Temple University Hospital, which contracts with Delaware Valley Community Health, rejected its first option, suing Turner himself, and chose instead to file a claim with the US government.
Temple Nurses, Delaware Valley Doctor Held Liable
District Judge Mark A. Kearney of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rendered his decision on the issue on April 14, 2017. Federal and state law, Judge Kearney wrote, made both Temple University Hospital and the United States government partially responsible for the birth injuries suffered by J.M. As a result, the Court ordered “the United States [to] reimburse 50 percent of the reasonable $8 million settlement of a substantial birth injury case.”
In his opinion, Judge Kearney provided a concise summary of the case’s facts, noting in particular that nurses at Temple had warned Clinton Turner about troubling fetal test results. J.M., however, did not receive the care he so desperately needed. “After three hours of communication breakdowns between the professionals[,]” the Judge writes, “the doctor [Turner] turned his attention to perform a now urgent cesarean upon the mother and shortly thereafter delivered the baby […] with several birth injuries.”
In early pre-trial depositions, experts from Temple pointed to evidence that J.M. had endured some level of brain damage prior to his mother’s admission, but could not discount suggestions that the hospital’s treatment had compounded the injuries. Experts say that around 10% of cerebral palsy cases are caused or contributed to by episodes of birth asphyxia, in which unborn children experience periods of oxygen deprivation during labor or delivery.
Unusual Case Comes To A Close
“We find, based on a preponderance of the evidence,” Judge Kearney concluded, “both the doctor and hospital nurses equally share in the negligence creating an increased risk of harm during hours of inaction.”
The implication of the federal government in a state court-filed birth injury complaint makes this case particularly strange, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Even representatives of the Delaware Valley Community Health Center, where Clinton Turner is employed, agree that the lawsuit filed by J.M.’s family is atypical for medical malpractice claims. “This is an unusual case,” said A. Scott McNeal, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Delaware Valley Community Health. “I haven’t had a chance to review the opinion and brief my board.”