Pediatric Malpractice: When Children are the Victims

Study after study continues to show that medical malpractice is a significant cause of patient death and injury in the United States. Unfortunately, our most vulnerable patients are at the most risk. Indeed, children with chronic medical conditions who are hospitalized are significantly more likely to experience medical errors while in the hospital. For example, a 2012 study published in Pediatrics found an overall medical error rate of 3 for every 100 hospital discharges, but that number climbs to 5.3 for children with chronic conditions. Nationally, that number equates to over 100,000 pediatric inpatient medical errors a year. In addition, adverse drug events are 3 times more common among pediatric patients.

There are several steps you as a parent can take to help protect your hospitalized child from becoming the victim of a preventable medical error or harm.

  1. Be an advocate for your child. Know the plan for caring for your child, ask questions and raise concerns.
  2. Wash your hands before entering and after leaving your child’s room and make sure your child’s caretakers do the same. If you don’t see them wash their hands, politely ask them to do so before caring for your child.
  3. Know your child’s medications and planned treatments. Ask what medication or treatment is being given to your child and why. Also, make sure caretakers double check your child’s name, date of birth, the medication and its dosage before administering it to your child. If something doesn’t seem right, speak up and politely ask your child’s caregiver to double check the order and the medication.
  4. It is also important to know your rights if your child is injured by a doctor or medical providers’ negligence. In Rhode Island, filing a medical malpractice action is an option.

Cases involving negligent medical care to minors are different in several important ways:

  • Minors cannot file a lawsuit on their own behalf prior to their 18th Thus, prior to turning 18, any lawsuit involving the injuries to a child must be brought on their behalf by their parents or other legal guardians.
  • Because minors can’t file lawsuits on their own behalf, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice involving minors is different. Specifically, if a parent or guardian does not file a lawsuit within 3 years of when the negligence occurs or is discoverable, then the minor may only file their own lawsuit within the 3 years following their 18th Parents, however, should not wait simply because of this extended timeframe for filing lawsuits. This is because these “late” cases can be infinitely more difficult simply due to the passage of time. Records can be lost, witnesses can move away or die, and memories fade.
    • In Rhode Island medical malpractice lawsuits by (or on behalf of) a minor child must be commenced within three years from act or reasonable discovery.
  • If a settlement is obtained in a suit brought by a parent or guardian on behalf of a minor child for personal injuries, court approval of the proposed settlement is often required. This process requires appointing an independent guardian “ad litem” for the child to review the proposed settlement and to make a recommendation to the court regarding the appropriateness of the settlement and how to best protect the settlement funds. This additional layer of protection is important, because the settlement is the child’s and is for the benefit of the child. Therefore, formal restrictions on when and how the money can be used are often required.

We at Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn hope that you and your family never need the services of a medical malpractice attorney. But, if you believe that your child has been the victim of childhood medical malpractice, it is important to seek out an attorney experienced in pediatric malpractice cases as soon as possible to investigate the matter for you and to assist you in protecting your child’s rights. At Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn, we have successfully assisted hundreds of children injured due to the negligence of their medical care providers.

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