The Maryland Daily Record reports that a Frederick County jury awarded nearly $4 million to a boy in a malpractice lawsuit claiming the child’s cerebral palsy was caused by his doctors’ failure to properly monitor his heartbeat before delivery. The jury’s verdict was against an ER doctor and an obstetrician. Three nurses, a third doctor – another ER doctor – and Frederick Memorial Hospital were not found liable.
The nature of the claims for at least two of the doctors (I’m not sure of the claims against the third who was not held responsible) that were allegedly a substantial contributing factor in the child’s cerebral palsy were different. The emergency room doctor was ostensibly told of the concern about the mother at 5:45 a.m. but did not see or evaluate her. The obstetrician allegedly was told about the concerns with the patient at 7:00 a.m. but did not see her or order that she be sent to labor and delivery.
Yet all three doctors were represented by the same attorney. As I have written before, Defendants’ lawyers are moths to the flame of presenting a united front against Plaintiffs. But I would think that the obstetrician would have liked to say, “No one did anything wrong but, sure, I relied on part on the fact that I assumed the ER doctor would have looked at the problem if there were immediate concerns.”
Now, that exact defense might be inapplicable to the facts of this malpractice case but some derivative version of that defense is almost invariably applicable when a medical malpractice lawsuit makes allegations against different doctors.
Again, I do not know all of facts and there could certainly be other facts present in this cerebral palsy case that would make one lawyer handling the claims of all three doctors an understandable strategy. This is obviously Monday morning quarterbacking after a bad medical malpractice verdict – which is incredibly easy to do. The attorney who represented the doctors is considered one of the best medical malpractice lawyers in Maryland.
But even if there are facts I don’t know that would change my analysis in this case, the principle I am talking about still holds true: defendants are almost invariably better off having their own lawyer to at least give them the easy option of jumping ship on the “we are all in this together” boat.
Moreover, I would not be surprised if the medical malpractice carrier preferred the idea of one lawyer handling the claim and led the doctors down that path. It might make sense for doctors to split counsel but from the malpractice insurer standpoint, if one doctor gets hit with a verdict, they all get hit. So the malpractice carrier arguably has a selfish motive of pushing the best option to get a defense verdict as opposed to pursing the best option for each individual doctor. If this were true – and, again, I have no idea – does that mean that the insurance company consciously tried to do what was not in the doctors’ interest? Not necessarily. But were reasonable minds can differ, we all have a tendency to think that the “best decision” for someone else coincides with what is best for us.
It is noteworthy that the Frederick County jury only awarded $300,000 for pain and suffering. It is hard to imagine that $300,000 for pain and suffering is reasonable when the jury awarded over $3.5 million in past and future medical bills. But my guess is that Paul Bekman – another incredible malpractice lawyer (this trial was clash of the titans with these lawyers) – specifically asked for a lower pain and suffering award because he wanted the jury to focus on the hard numbers that are not subject to Maryland’s cap on damages in medical malpractice cases.
The Frederick News Post also has an article on the case you can find here.