In Indiana, attending neonatologists are responsible for infants under their care. When birth injuries or deaths occur to neonates, a neonatologist may be liable for medical malpractice.
Responsibilities of a Neonatologist
Although the majority of pregnancies and births have a good outcome, some babies are born with injuries that develop in the mother’s womb or during birth. Obstetricians are most frequently responsible for pregnant patients and the birth of their babies, unless serious complications arise that put the baby at high risk for injuries. In such cases, a neonatologist is often brought in to monitor the infant and treat complications.
When birth complications arise, a neonatologist may be needed. Neonatology is a specialty field within pediatrics that provides medical care to newborn infants, referred to a neonates (infants less than one-month-old). Most neonatologists work in a hospital setting, usually in a neonatal intensive care unit (NCIU), where they can attend to newborns in medical distress.
Neonatologists have special medical training to care for high-risk and complex conditions associated with newborns. They monitor and provide special care for newborns who are born prematurely and/or have congenital conditions that may or may not require surgery. A neonatologist may be present during delivery and provide immediate care after birth. In some cases, a neonatologist may provide short-term follow-up care after an infant leaves the NICU or coordinate care with a newborn’s pediatrician. If a problem or condition with an infant is known prior to delivery, a neonatologist may consult with the attending obstetrician (OB/GYN), as well as a maternal-fetal medicine physician during pregnancy.
Neonatologists diagnose, monitor, and treat a variety of newborn conditions that pose risks of injury and/or death to newborns including:
- Preterm births where infants are usually born 37 weeks or more early
- Hypoxic ischemic encepholapathy (brain injury caused when the brain does not receive enough oxygen and blood flow during labor and/or delivery
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS)
- Immune system infections and/or sepsis
- Nutrition and growth for low-weight or critically ill newborns.
Neonatologists who provide medical care to high-risks infants assume a large percentage of liability risks by the nature of their profession and the type of treatments they provide. Since they deal with many premature births and infants with life-threatening conditions, neonatologists encounter a high number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed by personal injury lawyers. Common reasons for neonatology lawsuits include the following:
- Poor management of infant medical problems in the delivery room
- Failure to coordinate with the attending OB/GYN
- Failure to properly monitor an infant’s condition after birth
- Delayed medical diagnosis and/or treatment
- Administration of improper medications
- Complications from central lines
Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit
Medical malpractice lawsuits are part of tort law where a medical professional has duties and responsibilities toward his/her patients. If the patient files a lawsuit with a personal injury lawyer, proof of negligence on behalf of the medical professional must be shown in a court of law.
To win a medical malpractice case, four elements of proof must be established by the party filing the lawsuit (1) the defendant had a duty of care towards the patient; (2) the defendant breached that duty of care; (3) the breach of duty caused injuries: (4) injuries resulted in damages. In all medical malpractice lawsuits, the plaintiff has the burden of proof.
Medical malpractice lawsuits against obstetricians, pediatricians, and neonatologists make up a high percentage of claims for infant injuries.
Medical malpractice refers to a legal wrong committed by a healthcare professional, whether by intentional actions or acts of omission. In Indiana, medical malpractice laws are governed by the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. This act requires that legal actions brought against medical providers must be reviewed by a medical review panel that reviews the legal claim and determines if the medical provider was negligent and if so, whether that negligence caused damages. The medical review panel opinion is admissible evidence in an Indiana medical malpractice lawsuit, but it is not binding.