The United States Government will pay $42 million to the parents of a young child who suffered a permanent brain injury, resulting from improper use of forceps during his delivery. After a six day trial in Federal Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the verdict for $42 million was rendered by U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia Rambo. The parents sued the Federal Government in a malpractice claim involving an Ob/Gyn physician, who was employed at a federal facility. The lawsuit claimed that the doctor improperly used forceps on the baby’s head during the delivery, which caused skull fractures and bleeding on the brain that resulted in permanent brain damage. Evidence presented during trial showed that the now five year old boy cannot speak, read or write and eventually will require a motorized wheelchair to get around.
This was what is known as a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case. The FTCA is a federal statute that allows private parties to sue the United States in Federal Court for torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the Government. For example, if a doctor or nurse employed by a Veterans Administration hospital or a hospital on a military base commits malpractice, the patient would need to bring a medical malpractice claim under the FTCA. Other examples of potential negligence claims against the Government include someone injured in an auto accident involving a Government owned vehicle, and someone injured due to a fall caused by negligent maintenance in a post office or other Government-owned facility.
Suing the Government under the FTCA is different than suing a private company or individual. There are a number of hoops that you have to jump through before you can even file the lawsuit. There are also certain limitations in lawsuits against the Government that you don’t have in lawsuits against private parties. While you are entitled to a trial under the FTCA, it is a “bench trial,” meaning the judge renders the decision and not a jury. Fortunately for the victims in the above-referenced malpractice case, the judge recognized the serious and permanent nature of the child’s injuries and the extraordinary expenses that would be required to provide for the child’s future medical and life care needs.