Court Reduces Damages Awarded for Birth-Related Malpractice

Posted on Jan 25, 2014

On January 10, 2014, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld an appeals ruling in the malpractice case of Marsha Simpson and her 12-year-old daughter, Marissa.

The decision was a result of a Virginia law that protects physicians from being liable for malpractice damages exceeding a specific allotted amount. Although a jury awarded the Simpsons $9 million in damages in 2012, the law states that the highest amount a patient can actually receive is $1.6 million.

The Virginia Supreme Court agreed with the appeal and significantly reduced the damages awarded to the Simpsons.

The initial lawsuit focused on the negligent care provided to Ms. Simpson in 2001, when she was eight months pregnant with Marissa. Simpson, who suffered from gestational diabetes, underwent an amniocentesis procedure recommended and performed by Dr. David Roberts. During the procedure, complications arose, causing Dr. Roberts to hand the case over to a colleague, Dr. Jay Terry, for an emergency C-section. Marissa was delivered alive; however, due to the complications, she was born with cerebral palsy and kidney failure. As a result of the negligent medical care and its consequences, a 2012 jury awarded the Simpson’s $9 million in damages.

The case was then appealed in 2013, citing the limitation law. During the appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court stated that although Marissa legally wasn’t a patient in utero, once she was born alive she was immediately subject to the law as a patient. The Court then decreed that if Marissa had been stillborn, the law wouldn’t have applied and Ms. Simpson could have received more in damages due to suffering. However, since Marissa did survive, the court upheld the appeal and reduced the awarded damages. Ms. Simpson was awarded $1.4 million—down from $2 million—and instead of $7 million, Marissa received $1.6 million.

Dr. Roberts’s attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment.

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