What to Know About Pediatric Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice can be scary for anyone, but it can be especially scary if your child is the victim. Medical malpractice is a situation when a health care provider who you quite literally trust with your child’s life causes them harm that is potentially unnecessary.  

No one agrees to their child undergoing a medical procedure, thinking it’s going to ultimately be harmful, but it’s more common than people might realize. Medical malpractice is more common in adults, at least based on claims, but it happens in pediatrics as well.  

Some of the many reasons for medical malpractice in pediatrics or otherwise include a doctor who’s tired and overwhelmed, a medical staff that’s not well-trained, and breakdowns in communication.  

How Common is Pediatric Malpractice? 

In 2015, the average indemnity payment for malpractice claims among pediatricians was $633,000.  

According to data from the Physician Insurers Association of America, looking at closed pediatric malpractice cases, 36% involved a failure to diagnose, and 16% were based on a claim of inadequate communication between the care provider and the patient’s family.  

Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that around one-third of all pediatricians will be sued at some point in their career.  

Because of how harmful pediatric malpractice can be, it tends to be more expensive to defend these lawsuits compared to other specialists.  

Common Types of Claims 

Some of the common malpractice claims in pediatrics include the following: 

  • According to the AAP, meningitis is the most common illness associated with pediatric malpractice in the U.S. It’s challenging to diagnose meningitis in children, which is one reason why these are the most common types of claims. For example, in an infant, it’s difficult to make an initial diagnosis soon enough. As the meningitis advances, it causes worsening damage, which may ultimately be irreversible.  
  • Appendicitis is another condition commonly misdiagnosed. When appendicitis isn’t properly diagnosed, and the illness progresses, again the damage may not be reversible.  
  • Errors in medication are common in malpractice claims for patients of all ages. In medication  malpractice cases, physicians are overwhelmingly responsible followed by nurses and then pharmacies. These errors are usually ordering issues, but administration, transcription, and dispensing can also lead to malpractice claims in pediatrics.  

Pediatric Malpractice Lawsuits 

When a lawsuit stems from pediatric negligence, there are usually two components that are involved. The first is negligence on the part of the provider, and then there has to be demonstrated harm because of that negligence.  

In a medical malpractice claim, whether it involves pediatrics or another specialty, the concept of negligence means the provider didn’t provide treatment that would be in line with what other doctors would have done in similar circumstances.  

This means a medical malpractice claim has to demonstrate negligence in the existing standard of care.  

In a pediatric case, the standard of care typically requires that a doctor would properly diagnose a condition like meningitis in a timely way and provide the right dose of medicine at the right time.  

A medical malpractice claim also has to prove the negligence of the doctor caused foreseeable harm, such as pain and suffering or future medical treatment expenses.  

Choosing a Pediatrician 

If you’re choosing a new pediatrician for your child, you never want to be in a situation where you’re facing a potential issue of malpractice.  Ensuring the selection of a qualified and reputable healthcare professional is crucial to minimize the risk of your child having suffered from doctor negligence.

A pediatrician may care for your child throughout their teen years up to age 18, and they’re going to be responsible for being your first-line of medical care in most cases. Pediatricians monitor development, perform immunizations and physicals and diagnose and treat illnesses.  

It’s important to look for pediatricians who come highly recommended, preferably by friends and family. You should also look into a pediatrician’s credentials and experience.  

For example, some pediatricians voluntarily undergo the board certification process. They have to take an exam to receive certification from the American Board of Pediatrics. When a pediatrician is board-certified, it means they have competency in patient care and medical knowledge, but also professionalism and communication.  

Overall, as a parent, it’s important to watch for red flags in your child’s medical care. If you’re ever concerned about something or need clarification, speak up sooner rather than later.  

If you believe your infant or child has been harmed because of medical negligence, you should consult with an attorney,  particularly if there was harm leading to ongoing expenses.  

Not every misdiagnosis is going to meet the standards for medical malpractice, but some do.  

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