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Florida birth injury fund provides model for another state

If some Maryland legislators and leading hospitals get their wish, that state could join Florida, New York and Virginia as the only states with birth injury funds. The proposed bill would create the Maryland Injured Baby Fund, which would provide financial help to parents of babies who have suffered a birth injury.

The proposed fund is modeled on Florida's and Virginia's programs. A law professor in Virginia says those funds have reduced insurance premiums while helping families bear the added financial costs of caring for sick or disabled children injured during birth.

Sponsors and supporters of the bill, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, say the fund would help mitigate costly malpractice suits and judgments. Opponents, including patients' rights groups and trial attorneys, argue that it would allow medical providers to escape responsibility for negligence and mistakes.

The fund would be supported by annual fees paid by medical providers specializing in obstetrics and gynecology and by companies that offer medical malpractice insurance. The money would be available to families with a child who suffered a birth injury. They could apply for money to cover the costs of treatment and care, which can potentially be a lifelong expense. A judge would determine eligibility for compensation. Families could also use the money to cover damages often provided for in malpractice judgments, including the loss of earnings potential.

At least part of the impetus for the state fund stems from recent high-dollar malpractice judgments against health care providers for neurological damage allegedly caused during birth. Some recent judgments have amounted to tens of millions of dollars. Supporters of the legislation contend that large judgments and increased insurance premiums could reduce the availability of services for the state's residents.

Opponents say that medical providers need to be held accountable for their errors and that the best way to reduce malpractice costs is to improve their care. However, some physicians argue that birth injuries can result from conditions they can't control, like the mother's age. One doctor noted that cases where there is "real neglect" the state health department and Board of Physicians would investigate.

It will be interesting to watch how this debate plays out up north. While some families may benefit by not having to win a civil lawsuit to get needed financial compensation, there is concern that medical professionals who prove inadequate care may be able to avoid appropriate legal and financial responsibility.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, "Some hospitals seek legislation to help with malpractice" Andrea K. Walker, Feb. 10, 2014

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