There are fewer malpractice cases against pediatricians than any other type of physician. Nearly half of these lawsuits are with babies younger than one month old, when children are at their most vulnerable. Though pediatricians are sued less frequently than other physicians, the payout of these lawsuits is typically higher than others.
There are a few common types of pediatric malpractice claims. These include meningitis, appendicitis, medication errors, brain injuries, and diagnosing errors.
Meningitis is the leading source of pediatric malpractice claims, as it can be very difficult to diagnose in a pediatric setting. An infant with early symptoms of meningitis may go to the hospital, but if the physician or doctor does not recognize the symptoms and fails to make the diagnosis at the initial stage, irreversible harm can be done. An infant with meningitis deteriorates very quickly. Approximately 44% of meningitis malpractice lawsuits against pediatricians end in a settlement or verdict.
Appendicitis is another common source of pediatric malpractice claims, especially for female patients. The symptoms of appendicitis are similar to pelvic inflammatory disease or urinary tract infections in females, sometimes leading to a misdiagnosis of appendicitis. Approximately 32% of appendicitis related malpractice lawsuits against pediatricians end in a settlement or verdict.
Medication errors can also be common in pediatric settings. There are four possible times when a medication error can occur: ordering, transcription, dispensing, and administration of the medication. The ordering of and administration of the medication are the leading sources of a mistake in medication error cases.
Other common pediatric malpractice cases involve oxygen deprivation, pneumonia, and undiagnosed respiratory problems.
Pediatricians are the least likely doctors to be sued for medical malpractice. The number of pediatricians who have faced a malpractice claim has gone down over time. For example, in 1990, 33% of pediatricians had faced a claim one or more claims in their career, in 2001 it was 26%, and in 2015 it was 21%, according to a 2020 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That same study reported that 58% of these claims are successful, which is defined as a settlement or a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The average median payout in the United States has remain relatively unchanged over time, around $128 000 in 2018 dollars.
The average payout in pediatric cases is much higher, around $630,000. The younger the child, however, the higher the payout. For example, cases involving newborns value on average $940,000 while claims involving children aged 10-17 years value on average $390,000.
Additionally, male pediatricians and hospital-based pediatric subspecialists were more likely to be sued. Male pediatricians were 19% more likely to have faced a malpractice suit than female pediatricians. The hosptial-based physicians is most likely because there are more lawsuits in urban areas which is where most hospitals are based. Why are male pediatricians more often sued? It is a good question.
The most common allegation? Diagnostic errors such as delay of diagnosis, incorrect diagnosis, and failure to diagnose, are the most common errors pediatricians are sued for. Finding better ways to communicate, between doctors, patients, nurses, etc., is one of the main ways these mistakes can be reduced.Sample Pediatric Verdicts and Settlements
Below are examples of verdicts and settlements that have been won by pediatric malpractice victims. It is tempting to look for an estimate of what your case will be worth, however every case is unique. Learn more about the value of cases by type of injury.
- 2018, New York: $1, 500,000 Verdict A pediatrician treats a high school student with the facial antibiotic Bactrim. The plaintiff claims that the pediatrician negligently continued the girl on the Bactrim despite indications of adverse side effects. The plaintiff hired a medical malpractice lawyer, claiming that she suffered a severe facial rash and mucous membrane erosion as a result. The pediatrician refuses to settle and disputes the plaintiff’s damages. The case goes to trial in Queens County and the jury awards $1.5 million.
- 2017, Massachusetts: $7,000,000 Settlement This is a birth injury/post-delivery care case filed against several defendants, including an obstetrician and pediatrician at a hospital. The plaintiff alleges that the obstetrician was negligent in failing to perform an emergency c-section in response to fetal distress. The pediatrician was allegedly negligent in failing to provide appropriate neonatal care and failing to properly intubate the baby. The baby suffered a severe hypoxic brain injury. The case settled for $7.7 million.
- 2017, Illinois 2017: $48,000,000 Verdict The defendant pediatrician is sued for wrongful death after failing to properly examine and report signs of child abuse in an 8-year-old girl. Specifically, the pediatrician is accused of negligence in failing to report numerous signs that his patient was subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Soon after the pediatrician’s examination, the girl is killed by her abusive father. The family filed suit and presented expert testimony at trial that if the pediatrician had properly reported the evidence of abuse, the girl would have been removed from the home before she was killed. A jury in Chicago awards the plaintiffs $48 million in damages.
- 2017, Louisiana: $347,000 Verdict An emergency care pediatrician is accused of negligence for misdiagnosing a 7-year old with a stomach virus and sending her home. She is later diagnosed with a ruptured appendix, requiring emergency surgery. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant pediatrician should have done more extensive imaging tests when the girl first came to the hospital. The pediatrician contends that the tests were not warranted at the time and that he met the applicable standard of care. The case goes to trial in Lafayette Parish and the jury awards plaintiffs $347,000 in damages.
- Maine, 2017: $1,900,000 Settlement Pediatricians at a clinic operated by the federal government are sued for negligently failing to diagnose a patient’s acute leukemia. Instead, pediatricians at the clinic diagnosed her with constipation, resulting in a delay in proper diagnosis and treatment. The case is settled for $1.9 million.
- Pennsylvania, 2017: $2,100,000 Arbitration The defendant pediatricians and other medical professionals are accused of negligence in failing to perform routine eye examinations on a patient, resulting in a delay in diagnosis of the patient’s eye cancer. The 9-month delay in diagnosis allegedly resulted in blindness and the surgical removal of the child’s right eye, which the plaintiffs claim could have been avoided had the eye examination been performed. The case goes to arbitration and the arbitrator awards the plaintiffs $2.1 million.
- 2016, Alabama: $10,000,000 Verdict A three-month-old infant goes to the ER twice with a fever and other symptoms of bacterial infection. He is discharged both times. The day following his second discharge, he is taken to his family practitioner who performs a lumbar puncture which shows severe bacterial meningitis. Due to negligence in failing to timely diagnose meningitis, the child suffers permanent brain injuries, hearing and visual impairments, hydrocephalus, and a seizure disorder. The doctors' medical experts argue, to no avail, that the meningitis developed after he was discharged from the hospital. After a five-week trial, a jury awards the infant $10,000,000.
- 2016, New York: $5,000,000 Settlement An 18-month-old arrives at the hospital after a respiratory infection and suspected seizure activity. The neurologists diagnose her with a common virus for children and fever-related seizure activity. While she is in the hospital a few days later, her seizure activity increases despite the fact that her fever is under control. By day four, she has deteriorated quickly, and a CAT scan reveals significant brain tissue changes. She is finally diagnosed with herpes simplex encephalitis. Her parents bring a claim, arguing that the hospital staff should have recognized the symptoms earlier. Prior to trial, the parties settle for $5,000,000.
Call a pediatric malpractice lawyer today at (800) 553-8082 or go online for a free consultation. We can give you the legal advice that you need to and determine if you have a viable claim that may bring you compensation for the harm that has been done.More Information
- Valuing malpractice cases by injury type
- Overview of birth injuries
- Overview of failure to diagnose
- Overview of medication errors
- Montgomery County failure to diagnose case
- Baltimore City wrongful death case
- Tonsil removal case
- Newborn respiratory infection case
- Pediatric kidney disease
- Kawasaki disease misdiagnosis
Pediatric Malpractice Claims in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care Settings From 2001 to 2015 by Kimberly Glerum et al., Pediatric Emergency Care, 2018.
This retrospective review of closed pediatric malpractice claims found that the most frequently caused medical problems were cardiac/cardiorespiratory arrest, appendicitis, and disorder of the male genital organs (circumcision). Failure to diagnose was the most common reason for the severe injury (41%) and delay in admission to the hospital had the highest case values.
Medical Malpractice in Pediatric Orthopaedics: A Systematic Review of US Case Law by Scott Galey et al., Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 2019.
This study searched a legal database for pediatric orthopedic cases and found that orthopedic surgeons and pediatricians are common defendants in medical malpractice cases. They are often sued for mismanagement of fractures and mismanagement of developmental hip dysplasia. More than half of these cases are won by plaintiffs with high payouts.
Malpractice in Cases of Pediatric Appendicitis by Veronica Sullins et al., Clinical Pediatrics, 2016.
This retrospective database review found that failure to diagnose was the most common reason appendicitis patients filed malpractice lawsuits. Cases that went to trial resulted in defense verdicts 68% of the time. Timely diagnosis is a priority for patient safety and the reduction of liability.
Analysis of medical malpractice claims involving pediatric surgical conditions by Ruchi Amin et al., Current Pediatric Research, 2017.
In a review of pediatric malpractice cases specifically flagged for breaches in the standard of care for pediatric surgery, delay or failure to diagnose was again the most common cause of legal action. It was responsible for half of all wrongful deaths. This does not just apply to surgeons, however, since timely diagnosis relies on cooperation between different medical professionals.