Medical Malpractice in Childbirth and the Limits of Florida’s NICA Coverage – Bennett v. St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Inc., et al

While the statute mandated Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan (NICA Plan) provides no-fault benefits for certain childbirth injury claims, the Florida Supreme Court recently made clear that coverage under the plan is limited and in many cases the parents of injured children can seek a full range of legal remedies.

In Bennett v. St. Vincent’s Medical Center, Inc., et al, the Court ruled that the parents of a child born with certain brain injuries could sue the hospital and physicians allegedly responsible for damages and were not required to pursue limited compensation in an administrative forum provided under the NICA plan.

Plaintiff Tammy Bennett was pregnant when she was involved in a car accident in MacClenny, Florida. Following fetal testing, she was transferred to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville. At St. Vincent’s, Ms. Bennett declined into kidney failure and underwent a caesarean section for the delivery of her daughter, Tristan. In the following week, the child suffered from numerous conditions, many of which were linked to kidney and liver damage. She suffered a pulmonary hemorrhage, oxygen deprivation and seizures a week later and it was determined that Tristan had sustained permanent and substantial neurological damage. The Bennetts filed a medical malpractice suit against the hospital and treating physicians.

According to the Court, the NICA Plan was created in 1988 “as a means to alleviate the high costs of medical malpractice insurance for physicians practicing obstetrics.” The plan provides compensation, on a no-fault basis, for a limited class of birth-related neurological injuries. Coverage is specifically limited to “birthrelated neurological injury”:

injury to the brain or spinal cord of a live infant. . . caused by oxygen deprivation or mechanical injury occurring in the course of labor, delivery, or resuscitation in the immediate postdelivery period in a hospital, which renders the infant permanently and substantially mentally and physically impaired.

Ruling for the Bennetts, the Court held that the First District Court of Appeals wrongly determined that Tristan had suffered a “birthrelated neurological injury,” and therefore her parents were required to obtain limited compensation through the NICA Plan instead of full damages in a court of law. Although Tristan was transferred to the hospital’s special care nursery following delivery, she was injured as a result of oxygen deprivation seven days later. The Court held that “the [immediate post delivery] period does not encompass an additional ‘extended period of time when a baby is delivered in a life-threatening condition’ unless there are ongoing and continuous efforts of resuscitation.” As a result, the injury did not occur during the “immediate postdelivery period,” and the action was not covered by NICA.

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, nurse, hospital, nursing home, dentist or other medical caregiver makes a mistake that results in patient deterioration. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer is vital to pursuing a claim after a medical error causes injury. Medical malpractice law frequently entails complex litigation, conflicting expert witness testimony and tense negotiations with medical malpractice insurance companies.

If you or a loved one was injured by poor medical care, contact the South Florida medical malpractice attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We serve clients throughout South Florida, including in Boca Raton, Coral Springs and Hialeah, and offer a free initial consultation from our Fort Lauderdale offices. Call the firm today at 800-747-3733.

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