Stillbirth Malpractice Cases Make Headway in New York

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

Two stillbirth malpractice cases in New York are making legal headway in setting a value to the price of emotional suffering. A Brooklyn woman who lost her baby during labor — after being sent home from the hospital three times with an prescription for pain killers – was awarded a $1 million malpractice verdict this year after a 14 year battle. Another mother in the Bronx gave birth to a stillborn after the hospital staff neglected to notice the pattern of fetal distress and delayed an emergency Caesarean section. She rejected a $500,000 settlement, with her lawyer arguing that the Brooklyn woman’s verdict has now set the standard for suffering and damages due to her baby’s death.

The New York Times reported that these two unprecedented cases “offer a rare view of the legal system’s first computations to set a new value on this singular type of suffering.” Fixing a price on a mother’s anguish is a new arena for courts, particularly resisting awards for injuries like emotional suffering due to the subjective value. In the past, no awards were distributed to the mothers of stillborn children because they themselves had suffered no physical injury. However, there have been exceptions where states allowed lawsuits claiming the stillbirth was caused by malpractice.

The lawyer representing the woman in the Bronx case is basing his argument that the $1 million standard from the Brooklyn case should be accepted for his client, stating that the best way to stop medical carelessness “is not to take cheap money so they can write it off as a cost of doing business.”

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