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Birth Injury Fund Proposed by Maryland State Panel

Birth InjuryMaryland’s MedStar Harbor Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital were both named as defendants in recent medical malpractice lawsuits involving birth injuries. Jurors involved in each birth injury lawsuit rendered multimillion-dollar verdicts, which remain under appeal. Many critics of today’s legal system argue that medical malpractice litigation is much like the lottery, with some victims winning compensation and others getting zero financial relief.

This could all change if a new state-run birth injury fund proposed by a task force goes into effect. The fund, according to a report sent to legislators, would help infants who suffered neurological damage and injuries at birth, while reducing medical malpractice-related expenses incurred by hospitals and doctors.

Set up by the General Assembly earlier this year, the specialized task force is comprised of members of the health care industry, including Johns Hopkin’s Dr. Andrew J. Satin.

“The fund means babies born with injuries get compensation even when there wasn’t negligence but the outcome was just bad,” said Dr. Statin, who is the hospital’s director of OBGYN. “One reason people sue when doctors have done nothing wrong is because of the burden of caring for babies born with challenges.”

New fund may reduce number of birth injury claims

This so-called “no fault” fund is modeled after those already set up in Florida and Virginia. The report authors claim that the fund would enable more Maryland children to get compensation than those who pursued monetary damages through the court system. But the program is not without its detractors, many of whom believe the fund would only protect negligent health care providers.

“As I see it, any such fund would inevitably lead to a lack of meaningful accountability, which would lead to further negligence, and inevitably hurt the victims and their families with unfair and unjust compensation,” noted Michael Bennett, a patient advocate.

As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Del. Dan Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat who has advocated for a birth injury fund for some time, said Maryland can take lessons from other states and plans to introduce the measure again, since it failed to pass last year despite bipartisan support.

“The goal is to get people the help they need without having to go through a protracted litigation,” said Morhaim, who is also a physician.

The majority of Maryland-based hospitals support the idea of such a fund, but remain concerned about how the money will be raised and what types of obstetric cases it would cover. Larry L. Smith, who is Vice President of MedStar Health – one of the state’s biggest hospital systems – concedes that hospital staff can make errors, but they remain especially vulnerable given they often deliver babies on high risk patients who get little to no prenatal care. 

One of the goals of the birth injury fund is to ensure that Maryland health care professionals and hospitals can continue providing care and services to women. As it stands, many leading providers have been driven to other states after large medical malpractice awards.

Birth injury malpractice verdicts and settlements

As an example of the substantial awards handed out in medical malpractice lawsuit actions arising from birth injuries, Northeast Georgia Medical Center was recently ordered to pay a family $8.4 million after jurors determined the attending medical providers were negligent. The minor plaintiff suffered prolonged oxygen deprivation at the time of labor, leading to a later diagnosis of cerebral palsy.

It is still unknown whether Maryland lawmakers will set up a birth injury fund to help malpractice victims and their families. In the interim, children who are harmed must pursue legal compensation through the courts – a process that can last several years.

  1. Baltimore Sun, State panel recommends creation of a birth injury fund

  2., Hospital must pay $8.4 million after boy’s injury at birth,