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Fatal birth injury jury verdict of $1 million upheld

A fatal birth injury resulting from medical malpractice is catastrophic for the mother and family. The months of planning and pregnancy, the hopes and dreams for the life of a new family member, are snuffed out in a matter of moments. The mother is left to grieve for a life that never got the chance to live.

In 2004, the courts in New York finally recognized the legal right of a mother to recover monetary damages for her own pain and suffering in delivering a baby with a fatal birth injury caused by the negligence of another. While no amount of money can account for such a tragic loss, two recent cases have helped define what courts might reasonably award.

In 1997, a Brooklyn woman who was eight months pregnant suffered abdominal pain and went to the hospital three times. She was sent home with a prescription for a painkiller. The baby died during child birth at home when its head became stuck in the birth canal. Following the change in New York law, the woman's case proceeded to trial.

The hospital appealed. The appeals court wrestled with the question of fixing a reasonable sum to compensate a mother. In the end, the court determined the $1 million awarded by the jury was reasonable and allowed the verdict to stand.

Another fatal birth injury occurred in the Bronx when the medical staff unreasonably delayed an emergency Cesarean section until it was too late. The tormented mother held her stillborn baby in her arms. She has been offered $500,000 to settle her lawsuit, a sum she declined. Her lawyer has pointed to the Brooklyn case as a legal measure of reasonable compensation. While the hospital lawyers have indicated they may increase their offer to $750,000, for the time being the case is proceeding towards trial.

There is, of course, no price tag that can be put on a fatal birth injury caused by neglect and carelessness. It is enough to know that the law in New York recognized the right of a mother to compensation for negligent acts causing a stillborn birth. An attorney dedicated to helping a mother hold negligent parties accountable for her loss and her grief may offer some solace and understanding.

Source: The New York Times, "After Stillbirth, Courts Try to Put a Price on a Mother's Anguish," William Glaberson, Aug. 23, 2011

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