In 2004, the highest court in New York changed state law to allow mothers to sue for emotional suffering for stillbirths, provided that the cause was medical malpractice. Prior to this, a mother could only sue for physical harm to herself, not for the emotional distress of losing her child.
Winning in court
According to a NY Times report, the first case involved an eight months pregnant woman sent home from Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn despite abdominal pains. While it was her third visit to the hospital for this problem, healthcare professionals failed to examine her and sent her home with painkillers. While at home, the woman went into labor and the baby did not survive. A jury awarded her one million dollars for emotional suffering, and the verdict was upheld on appeal.
This case set a precedent for the second case, which involved a pregnant woman who delivered a stillborn child at Lincoln Medical in the Bronx. Hospital staff failed to recognize signs of fetal distress and delayed an emergency Caesarean until it was too late. While Lincoln hospital lawyers offered the victim a $500,000 settlement, she decided to take the case to trial. Her attorney argued in court that the previous Brooklyn ruling set a benchmark for this case.
Both plaintiffs hope their litigation will discourage hospitals from providing negligent maternity care, and spare other mothers from the same pain and suffering.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.