A Maryland hospital was found negligent in causing an infant’s severe disabilities, including cerebral palsy last year, resulting in a record-setting $229 million jury verdict. Now, state hospitals and many lawmakers want to prevent future lump sums for birth injuries by creating a state fund for victim compensation.
Record Medical Malpractice Verdict
The case that has triggered interest in a state fund for compensating victims resulted in the largest verdict in history. Erica Byrom gave birth at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in 2014. Doctors told her that, due to complications, her baby either would not survive or would have severe brain damage.
As a result of that information, Byrom declined an emergency C-section and delivered her daughter with severe, lifelong disabilities. Later, experts showed the information was inaccurate and that if doctors had performed the procedure immediately, the baby’s injuries would have been milder.
Byrom and her lawyers took the case to court, where they won a record-setting $229 million jury verdict. The child, Zubida, has severe cerebral palsy and will need 24-hour supportive care for the rest of her life.
Maryland Hospitals Seek Better Way to Compensate Victims
The effort to create a state fund for compensating infants with birth injuries is not new to the state. However, the massive verdict amount has reinvigorated attempts by hospitals to get legislation that would create a fund.
Instead of getting a lump sum of cash through a lawsuit, victims would get lifetime care paid for through the fund on an as-needed basis. As a child needs care, the fund would pay out to cover those immediate costs. A patient’s doctor would determine the care needs.
Hospitals and the medical community argue for a fund because of the rising costs of verdicts and settlements. They say that the cost of insuring hospitals is becoming unsustainable. They worry hospitals will stop offering obstetrics or that doctors will leave to work in other states.
The current plan would still allow victims to sue, but the verdict amounts would not matter in most cases. Some victims would end up receiving more than their verdict and others less, depending on their care needs over the years.
Critics of the Infant Lifetime Care Trust
Trial lawyers and patient advocates are critical of the fund, which would be called the Infant Lifetime Care Trust. They say care to patients would be rationed and that they and their families would have less say in the quality of care. They also fear that the fund could run out of money, leaving families stranded.
The cost of the fund, critics say, would be the responsibility of taxpayers and other patients. The hospitals would raise the costs of services, indirectly getting the money for the fund through Medicare, Medicaid, and patients’ health insurers.
Whether or not the Infant Lifetime Care Trust will pass as law in Maryland remains to be seen. For patients and consumers of healthcare, it is important to understand how laws like these could benefit them or limit their options for medical care or legal actions.