This year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down several well-publicized decisions pertaining to groups that have been struggling for their rights. But minorities and gay-rights advocates were not the only ones whose future was hanging in the balance ? a 13-year-old North Carolina girl, rendered blind, deaf, and mentally disabled at birth by a botched Caesarian section, also found herself at the center of a landmark decision. The result was good news for medical malpractice plaintiffs.
In a 6–3 ruling, the Court struck down a North Carolina law that allowed the state to take one-third of the amount of a medical malpractice award or settlement as reimbursement for Medicaid payments. The Court had ruled several years ago that states could only claim the portion of a malpractice recovery specifically attributable to medical expenses, not amounts awarded for non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering.
However, in cases where the total amount recovered was not allocated between monetary and non-monetary damages, North Carolina law permitted the state to assume one-third of the amount was attributable to medical expenses. The Supreme Court felt the one-third rule was arbitrary and unreasonable.
The facts of the case at hand:
The severely disabled girl from Taylorsville, NC, received a $2.8 million settlement from the obstetrician whose negligence caused her to be born with cerebral palsy.
The state, which had provided Medicaid payments of almost $2 million for the girl, asserted a lien on one-third of the settlement amount, more than $900,000.
The parents of the girl contested the lien all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Court, recognizing that the girl would require extensive medical care for the rest of her life, declared that states could not establish a standard lien percentage applicable to all medical malpractice cases.
The decision is a boon for clients of medical malpractice attorneys in North Carolina and other states that have similar laws, potentially allowing them to hold onto a larger portion of the damages they recover.
Posted in Birth Injuries, Medical Malpractice
Tagged birth injuries, medical malpractice award, OBGYN error, settlement, supreme court