At Brown Wharton & Brothers, we offer information and support for families all across the United States. In March 2017, we learned about a case that ended triumphantly when a jury awarded $46.5 million verdict in a toddler jaundice negligence case. After three years and a trial that lasted two weeks, this Arkansas family may finally have some relief.
Jaundice Negligence Case Information
The jaundice negligence lawsuit mentioned above was filed against a doctor and hospital after the 2014 birth of the toddler centered in the case. The lawsuit claimed that the infant girl developed jaundice immediately after birth, but a failure to properly manage and treat her, plus medical negligence, led to her developing kernicterus – a serious complication of jaundice.
The lawsuit further claimed that the defendants listed failed to abide by national patient safety guidelines (the generally accepted standards) for treating newborn jaundice. Instead, it is alleged that the doctor and the hospital ignored the high bilirubin levels and did not treat the infant within the first 24 hours – no blood testing, no phototherapy, and no reevaluation of bilirubin levels before being discharged. After the family went home, the infant’s bilirubin levels climbed so high that she suffered extensive brain damage.
Now, the almost 3-year-old toddler is unable to talk, walk, care for herself, or feed herself. She is bound to a wheelchair and requires 24-hour care and supervision. It is expected that she will require intensive ongoing medical care, adaptive aids, and therapies. Despite her injuries, the toddler has some normal cognitive functions, and can feel, think, and show emotion like anyone else.
The Other Side of the Story
Rather than conceding to the jaundice negligence that has obviously damaged this child, the defendants contended that doctors and hospitals in South Arkansas are not required to follow patient safety guidelines, and further, that the standards of care in South Arkansas are lower than in other states. This defense is somewhat shallow in light of the fact that the doctor and hospital were equipped with the tools necessary to test for, and treat, elevated bilirubin levels and jaundice.
This defense was also difficult to maintain with the plaintiffs strongly arguing that any doctor or hospital, anywhere in the U.S., who deliver and treat newborns (and are equipped to do so) are required to follow patient safety rules and medical standards of care. The jury apparently agreed with this sentiment, finding the doctor and hospital both negligent in violating national guidelines.
The Severity of Kernicterus
Not all cases of jaundice result in the horrifying complications discussed above or are indicative of jaundice negligence. In fact, most cases of jaundice are identified quickly, with treatment being initiated as soon as elevated bilirubin levels are discovered. Testing bilirubin levels is typical in the days following birth, and is done by a simple finger prick to draw blood.
In most cases, a blood test, or the identifying yellow-ish color of the skin and eyes, is the first sign of jaundice. With quick diagnosis and treatment, jaundice often resolves in a matter of days or weeks with little or no side effects. If it is left untreated, however, and kernicterus develops, the child is at risk for severe brain damage, and some children have even died due to severe illness.
Once kernicterus develops, it is critical that treatment be initiated immediately. The longer the condition remains unchecked, the greater the chance of severe damage. Severe cases of kernicterus can result in physical injuries (like those discussed above), as well as neurological disorders, learning disabilities, hearing loss, even athetoid cerebral palsy.
Signs and Symptoms of Kernicterus
As a new parent, it can be difficult to distinguish normal aches, pains, and development from signs of a more serious problem. If you suspect that your child has jaundice, or have received a diagnosis of jaundice, you should contact your doctor if any of the following symptoms arise:
- Poor sucking and feeding
- Jaundice that is not clearing with standard treatment
- Fatigue or lethargy
- High-pitched crying
- Bulging of the “soft spot” (fontanel)
- Hearing loss
- Stiffness or inability to move
These are the most common signs and symptoms of severe jaundice or kernicterus, and should be addressed with your doctor immediately.
Depending on your child’s overall health and age, treatment may be as simple as phototherapy. Phototherapy is a common treatment option for infants with jaundice. Your infant will lay under special lights, which will help normalize bilirubin levels in a timely manner. If jaundice is severe, or if light therapy is not appropriate, your doctor may choose a more intensive treatment, such as exchange transfusions. Exchange transfusions work to put more normal blood cells back into your infant’s bloodstream.
Concerned that Negligence Injured Your Child?
No doctor, nurse, or parent can cause jaundice or kernicterus to manifest in an infant. What doctors, nurses, and hospitals have the obligation to do, however, is recognize, diagnose, and treat these conditions as soon as they suspected. Failure to diagnose or treat a condition like jaundice or kernicterus can result in severe, needless injuries to your child.
If you are concerned that your child developed kernicterus or suffered any harm due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, contact Brown Wharton & Brothers today to learn more about protecting your legal rights. Medical malpractice and negligence are unacceptable in any hospital, anywhere. It is important that you get the help you need in holding negligent healthcare providers accountable for substandard care.
To learn more or schedule a free case review, fill out our online form. Our team is very responsive, and is here to help you protect your family and get the justice you deserve.