We’re hearing more and more these days about the rising cost of health care in the United States. These costs include not only payments for insurance and medical treatment patients receive, but the expenses hospitals and clinics incur for purchasing and maintaining the highest-quality equipment. In return, patients and their families expect top-notch care when they visit a medical facility. So when a course of medical treatment goes terribly wrong, it’s reasonable to expect some form of compensation through a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Earlier this month a Pennsylvania woman and her family received one of the state’s largest-ever malpractice awards after her baby suffered a tragic birth injury. It was August 2008 when she arrived at a Pottstown hospital, 36 weeks pregnant with signs of placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus before the baby is born. The complication can cause severe bleeding and deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients. There’s also a risk of stillbirth.

According to the lawsuit, the attending physician performed an ultrasound exam with hospital equipment that was “outdated, insensitive and poorly maintained.” The mother’s attorneys said that when questioned, the hospital’s risk manager admitted that the ultrasonography equipment appeared not to have even been serviced for more than a decade, even though its manual stated that annual maintenance was necessary. The obstetrician insisted he’d performed the ultrasound properly, and that he didn’t identify the fetal heartbeat because the baby had died. But 81 minutes later, he said that the baby had “come back to life,” the attorneys said. Compounding the problem was the absence of an ultrasound technician on duty because it was a Sunday. A technician had to come from home to verify that the ultrasound was done incorrectly.

As a result of the faulty equipment and the obstetrician’s errors, the child, now 3, was born with severe spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and will require extensive care for life. Had an emergency cesarean section been performed without that 81-minute delay, the injuries might never have happened.

The child’s injuries are even more tragic considering that ultrasound equipment isn’t nearly as expensive to maintain as other equipment found at most hospitals. If the hospital had invested a minute fraction of the amount it now must pay to the family, the lawsuit could have been avoided and the child would have had a good chance at a normal life.

Source: The Mercury, “$78.5M malpractice award against Pottstown hospital may be among state’s largest,” Evan Brandt, May 4, 2012