U.S. Government to Pay $2.3 Million in Malpractice Case

The federal government will pay $2.3 million to settle a medical malpractice lawsuit involving a child born with neurological damage at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. U.S. District Judge approved the settlement between the Justice Department and a family in Virginia Beach, according to a court filing made public. The plaintiffs sued the United States early last year, seeking $15 million in damages. The couple alleged that inadequate care at a Naval Medical Center caused their child to be born with developmental disabilities. The government denied any malpractice and admited no wrongdoing in the settlement.

In 2006,the plaintiff checked into the hospital with severe cramping in her lower abdomen. She was 35 weeks pregnant, according to the lawsuit. She was moved to a triage room and connected to a fetal heart monitor, which showed abnormalities indicating the fetus was under stress, the suit says. Instead of notifying a doctor, the papers say, the staff left the patient for more than an hour without any intervention.

About 2-1/2 hours after she was admitted, doctors performed an emergency cesarean section. The doctors determined that the placenta had detached from the uterine wall, causing a loss of oxygen to the fetus, the suit says. The baby girl was born pale and limp, with respiratory failure and a slow heart rate, the suit says. She was intubated and later transferred to Children’s Hospital. The girl’s “neurological injuries are extensive, severe and permanent,” the suit says. “She is severely delayed in all areas of development.” The damage, including cerebral palsy, will be lifelong.

The case was set for trial Dec but the parties had been working on a settlement for at least two months, the court records show. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, which defended the suit, declined to comment. Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return phone messages. The judge’s settlement order states that the plaintiff’s attorneys will receive about $675,000 in fees and expenses, $54,000 will go toward medical bills, and the remaining $1.57 million will go into a trust set up to care for the child.

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