Jaundice is a serious but treatable condition related to the liver. Though it is most common in pre-term babies, it can happen to any baby whose liver is producing an excess of bilirubin, a compound in your red blood cells. Sometimes, a baby’s liver simply isn’t mature enough to get rid of the excess bilirubin, leading to jaundice; however, if left untreated, these high levels can become toxic to your child.
This is what happened to one family in Arkansas earlier this year. The family claimed their physician failed to follow-up properly on a blood test that indicated a high risk of extreme jaundice, according to a story in the Arkansas Times. The mother had a previous child born with a similar condition. They filed a lawsuit alleging that even though a nurse noticed evidence of slight jaundice, the mother and baby were discharged with instructions to return in 10 days. Three days after they were discharged from the hospital, the mother reported that the baby was lethargic, crying shrilly and seemed to be in pain.
The mother called the doctor’s office and a nurse told the mother to call back in the morning. She finally got an appointment with the doctor who drew blood, noted that the baby had jaundice and sent the mother and baby home. When the blood test results came back, he called the family to bring the child to the hospital right away. The family arrived at the hospital and the baby was given light treatments to reduce the high bilirubin levels, and then transferred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The child suffered irreversible brain injury because of the extended exposure to such high levels of bilirubin. Now, the child is confined to a wheelchair and will need ongoing medical care in the future.
The lawsuit, per the Times story, alleges negligence by both the doctor and the hospital staff for ignoring the high bilirubin reading and failing to do a repeat blood test, and in the treatment by the doctor’s clinic.
Failure to diagnose: is it grounds for medical malpractice?
Just because a doctor fails to diagnose disease does not necessarily constitute medical malpractice. If the failure to diagnose a disease caused a delay in treatment or no treatment at all for a condition that grew progressively worse because it was not being treated, then that negligence on behalf of the physician might be actionable.
Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose might involve a doctor’s failure to recognize symptoms, or mistake the symptoms for another disease. Doctors, being human, make errors all the time. If the doctor’s diagnostic error was the direct cause of the patient’s injury, a doctor-patient relationship existed and the doctor’s failure to diagnose the condition breached the accepted standard of care for that specialty, the patient may have a malpractice case.
In the case of the infant born with jaundice, there seems to have been a failure to treat to potentially dangerous but treatable condition that the nurse and the doctor noticed but failed to do anything about, which resulted in a birth injury that will have a negative impact on the rest of the child’s life.
Medical negligence caused the child to have permanent brain damage. She is unable to walk, talk, feed herself or care for herself, yet she has normal cognitive function. She will require 24-hour care and supervision because her doctors failed to notice the jaundice right away and treat it quickly with phototherapy.
At Gainsberg Law, we fight on behalf of families whose lives have been changed forever because of acts of negligence. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers are prepared to uphold your rights, and fight for your future. Please call 312-600-9585 or fill out our contact form for more information.