A judge in New York state has refused to seal a medical malpractice lawsuit settlement agreement for $4.25 million. The case, involving the deaths of two twin fetuses who died before they were born, stemmed from allegations that the hospital and doctors failed to properly monitor the girls’ mother for preeclampsia, which is a serious medical condition that affects some pregnant women and is typically characterized by high blood pressure.
According to the complaint filed by the plaintiff, the girls’ mother suffered from preeclampsia that was not caught in time. She suffered a seizure, which in turn resulted in the placenta of the identical twins becoming detached from the womb. The twins died shortly thereafter. They were stillborn at just shy of 34 weeks.
That was back in March 2009. The girls’ mother filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the hospital, two doctors and the employer of one of the doctors in connection with the death.
After years of discovery and various proceedings, plaintiff’s attorneys managed to broker the $4.25 million settlement for wrongful death of the girls and pain and suffering on her behalf. The girls’ father was not party to the proceeding, though the mother did ultimately agree to pay him 35 percent of her share, which was 60 percent after attorneys’ fees.
The two doctors didn’t consent to the settlement, and therefore they didn’t contribute to it either. It’s unclear based on the Times-Tribune report whether the claims against the physicians have been fully resolved. The doctors’ refusal to consent and contribute may have played some part in the judge’s decision to reject a request from the defense to keep the settlement agreement a secret. This is a common provision in many medical malpractice settlement agreements. It’s important to defendants in these situations to maintain their reputation. When they can keep details of discovery – and how much they paid for the claim – a secret from the public, they prevent that information from being used against them by future claimants. They also get to preserve their reputation, in many cases by paying more so they don’t have to admit wrongdoing.
However, the judge in this case declined to grant the defendants that request, citing the public’s right to know and saying this outweighed the concerns of defense attorneys, who argued that the release of this information would make it less likely that hospitals and doctors would agree to settle medical malpractice lawsuits in the future.
The judge in his ruling stated that court records are supposed to remain open, except in exceptional circumstances. Plus, this case had already been detailed extensively by the local newspaper, which meant much of the information that might otherwise have been confidential had already been publicized.
For those who may be unfamiliar, preeclampsia is a condition of pregnancy that is characterized by high blood pressure, as well as damage to some other system of organs – often the kidneys. Even the slightest elevation in blood pressure could be an indication of preeclampsia, which is why doctors have to monitor pregnant women closely. If the condition goes untreated, it could result in serious and even fatal complications for both mother and baby.
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Judge refuses to seal $4.25 million settlement in baby death case, Aug. 23, 2016, By Terrie Morgan-Besecker, The Times-Tribune
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