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Jury awards $46.5 million in medical malpractice case

An Arkansas jury has awarded a two-year-old plaintiff and her parents $46.5 million in a case against the hospital and doctor that delivered her.

At the time the baby was born in June 2014, she had high levels of bilirubin, a yellow compound, and was at risk of extreme jaundice. The defendants misread her test results as normal.

The doctor and hospital missed other warning signs of extreme jaundice, such as the fact that the baby and her mother had different blood types. The nurses repeatedly found signs of jaundice while she was in the hospital. The mother had also previously had a child with a similar condition.

Nevertheless, the baby was released 48 hours after being born. She was released without having her bilirubin levels tested again and her parents were not warned to watch out for signs of extreme jaundice.

Mild jaundice often resolves itself within a few weeks. Extreme jaundice, though, requires light therapy treatment or an intravenous transfusion of a blood protein to reduce levels of antibodies.

A few days after bringing their daughter home, the Smalls realized that her health was deteriorating. The infant’s bilirubin level had reached a level so high that it entered her brain, causing irreversible brain damage. The child developed kernicterus, a rare form of brain damage caused by the high level of bilirubin. Symptoms of kernicterus include lethargy, poor muscle tone, a fever, high-pitched crying among others.

At almost three years of age, the child is not able to talk, walk or feed herself. It is expected that she will never be able to care for herself. She has normal cognitive function for her age.

According to the Arkansas Times, the defendants argued that though a blood test for jaundice is the national standard of care, doctors and hospitals in South Arkansas are not “subject to meeting national standards of care for this condition”.

The plaintiffs argued that the doctor and hospital should be held to the same patient safety rules as the rest of the nation.

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