Iowa Family Receives Largest Medical Malpractice Award in State’s History

An Iowa jury recently awarded an injured child and his family $97.4 million in a medical malpractice birth injury case.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Written by
— Updated on June 16, 2022

Iowa Family Receives Largest Medical Malpractice Award in State’s History

The birth injury lawsuit award sets a new record for the largest medical malpractice compensation award in Iowa’s history.

What Happened in the Birth Injury Lawsuit?

The birth injury lawsuit focuses on the 2018 birth of the plaintiffs’ son. During his birth, the plaintiffs allege, the baby suffered oxygen deprivation. Signs of the baby’s distress were apparent in the hours leading up to his birth. However, the obstetrician in charge of delivery and the hospital staff failed to act on that information, the parents claimed. According to the parents, both the obstetrician and hospital staff failed to provide support or initiate delivery by C-section.

The plaintiffs and their son’s conservator filed suit against both the obstetrician and Mercy Hospital Iowa City. The complaint alleged that the child’s prenatal condition was “unremarkable and that he was neurologically intact” before August 11, 2018. On this date, his mother went to Mercy Hospital Iowa City with contractions.

Upon his birth, however, the baby “demonstrated respiratory distress, and required resuscitation.” The baby spent about 46 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before he was able to go home. Signs of damage to the skull and brain appeared on CT and MRI scans. In November 2018, the child had surgery to place a shunt in his head. Moreover, the shunt will remain in place for the rest of his life.

The child, now 3 years old, is currently unable to walk unaided, and he speaks only a few words. The lawsuit alleges that he will require 24-hour care for the rest of his life.

Allegations

According to the complaint, the doctor and hospital failed to meet the standard of care by continuing to attempt vaginal delivery even after signs indicated that a cesarean section was necessary to manage the risk to the baby. The plaintiffs claimed that “had [the baby] been delivered sooner as required by the standard of care, he would be neurologically intact and would have avoided injury” rather than experiencing “permanent brain damage.” 

Elements of the $97.4 Million Total Award 

The $97.4 million total includes compensation amounts aimed at various ends. These include:

  •  $42 million for future medical and care expenses
  • $11.6 million for loss of future earnings
  • $20 million for pain and suffering
  • $20 million for loss of function of the mind and body

The defendants are to split the payment of the award. To date, neither the defendant obstetrician nor Mercy Hospital Iowa City has admitted any wrongdoing. The hospital released a statement noting that it was “disappointed” in the verdict and “will consider all available options” moving forward. The obstetrician’s legal team released a similar statement.

Looking Toward Future Iowa Medical Malpractice Claims 

Currently, Iowa medical malpractice law caps non-economic damages at $250,000 “unless the jury determines that there is a substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death, which warrants a finding that imposition of such a limitation would deprive the plaintiff of just compensation for the injuries sustained.”

In 2020, two bills were introduced in the Iowa legislature that proposed the deletion of this language from the state’s medical malpractice laws. Under the proposed law, non-economic damages would cap at $250,000, regardless of the circumstances of any particular case.

In this birth injury lawsuit, the total award sets aside $40 million for non-economic damages. This included pain and suffering and loss of function. Had the proposed changes become law, this portion of the damages award would reduce to $250,000. This nearly halves the total award to the family and the injured child.

Large verdicts tend to be highly publicized, making them targets for debate. This record-setting verdict may further feed that conversation. The verdict may push legislators toward further attempts to change Iowa’s rules regarding medical malpractice damages. While the current law remains in place, the record-setting verdict provides an example of a successful argument that the $250,000 limit would deprive plaintiffs of “just compensation.”

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