South African healthcare practitioners and insurers may take some comfort (on the basis that the grass is not greener) from the jury verdict of an Illinois, US Court in a medical malpractice claim against the West Suburban Medical Center and others.
The jury awarded a record US$100.6 million damages against the hospital in respect of brain damage a child suffered at birth.
Liability was shared with a nurse, an ultrasound technician and doctor, who were also defendants.
Apparently the previous record was held by a US$53 million verdict in a birth injury claim.
Converted to rands, South African awards and settlements for birth injury claims pale into insignificance.
The general facts of the case would be familiar to South African healthcare providers and professional indemnity insurers. The claim revolved around the monitoring of the patient and concerned readings of the foetal heart rate which were not promptly communicated to the medical team. There were also delays in attendances on the mother.
There was dysfunctional communication amongst the entire medical team including the obstetrics department and the radiology department causing a delay in delivery of the child and causing the brain injury.
Interestingly the claim against the radiologist and the radiology company was unsuccessful.
The hospital will not have to pay the full award, however, on the basis of an agreement (permitted by the relevant jurisdiction) capping the hospital’s exposure in the event of a liability finding.