MLive, an online Michigan news site, reported a recent jury verdict in a birth trauma case. The Michigan jury awarded $13 million to the parents of a baby girl who was left with limited use of her right arm following birth trauma. Her birth injury has implications that go beyond her childhood.
The injury is commonly called a brachial plexus injury, referring to a stretching or tearing of the network of nerves running from the spine in the lower neck to the armpit and arm. These nerves innervate the upper arm, forearm, and hand. Permanent damage to these nerves can result in partial or complete loss of function. It is usually caused by excessive traction during the birthing process.
In the Michigan case, the baby’s nerves were completely severed when resident doctors pulled down excessively on her head while her shoulder was caught on the mother’s pelvic bone. The pulling down of the baby’s head stretches the nerves. Continued traction without the release of the shoulder will tear the nerves. The family alleged that the doctors should have done a cesarean section or delivered using a method that would have caused less strain on the baby. The hospital employed a typical defense in these cases…it was not us but the natural birthing process that caused the injury. The jury did not buy into this defense, likely because the injury could have been prevented with reasonably prudent care.
The worse thing about this verdict is that it will be reduced (to about $4 million). Michigan places a cap on non-economic damages at $433,400. In other words, Michigan lawmakers believe that the inability to effectively use an arm–thereby limiting athletic pursuits, restricting recreational options throughout the baby’s lifetime, and likely creating social anxiety and embarrassment–is worth less than half-a-million dollars.
The child has undergone multiple surgeries and continues to wear a brace on her right arm, which is malformed. This is a permanent injury that will never go away. She will require a lifetime of assistance in completing basic daily tasks, such as brushing her hair or getting dressed. This injury will limit virtually every aspect of her life. And if she lives a normal life expectancy, Michigan says the injury is only worth around $5,300 a year, or $14.50 a day.
Really? Would give up your arm for $14.50 a day?
I doubt any Michigan lawmakers would.
* This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice.