When medical malpractice harms a child – what can parents do?

When medical malpractice harms a child – what can parents do?

When medical malpractice harms a child – what can parents do? 150 150 Lauren Ellerman

This is a difficult article to write. It is personal and raw.

8 years ago my husband and I joined a group of parents we didn’t want to join. The group that understands how fragile life, health and happiness can be.  A group of parents who has seen their  children on ventilators.  A group of parents who has heard words like ‘brain damage’ or ‘not much we can do now but wait.’

This isn’t a club I want anyone to join.

There are only two possible exits from this group – miraculous survival, or devastating loss. I am the grateful member of the miraculous survival club but it was luck, God and great medical care that lead us there.

And while our membership to this exclusive club was not related to anyone’s mistakes, or bad decisions or bad medical care (in fact, excellent medical care saved my life and the life of my daughter) many of the families who call our office, desperate, overwhelmed and broken by a medical tragedy, suffer more as their children’s bad outcome could have been prevented with adequate or appropriate medical care.

As I think about our firm, our clients and the calls we get, I am humbled by the mothers and fathers who reach out looking for answers. I am reminded that no surgery is easy, safe and fool proof. I am reminded that every action has a consequence. That every medical procedure and decision, impacts a life directly.

In the last 15 years, we have handled, investigated, and resolved medical malpractice cases on behalf of children and their parents, with the following circumstances and facts:

  • Orthopedic surgery mistakes
  • Post-operative surgical mistakes
  • Neurosurgical mistakes
  • Anesthesia mistakes
  • Oral surgery mistakes
  • Birth injury / delivery negligence
  • Pre-term birth mistakes
  • Post-delivery mistakes
  • Emergency room negligence
  • Failure to diagnose in pediatricians offices
  • NICU / PICU negligence


Parents are often given bad news, and asked to make immediate medical decisions. “Dr. ____ needs to operate right now.” “You don’t have time for a second opinion.” OR, they trust the doctors who tell them “we can do this procedure, and your child will be fine.”

Trust is placed in the hands of strangers, and thankfully – the majority of that time, everything turns out ok. Kiddo recovers from surgery. Healthy baby is born. Treatable condition is diagnosed.

But when it doesn’t work out, what are you supposed to do?

How are you supposed to grieve a medical tragedy – and process that it could have been avoided, at the same time?

There is no rule book on how you should feel, or act after your child (and subsequently your family) suffers a medical malpractice trauma. Like all trauma and grief, your response will be varied, and your mind and feelings will change frequently. No one can tell you how it should feel.

Having observed this process with many families and all kinds of families (poor, rich, older children, newborns) all I can share is what I have observed:

  1. Counseling is good.
  2. If you want to speak to an attorney about it, do so sooner rather than later as witnesses move and memories fade (also statutes of limitations may pass)
  3. A lawyer can’t undo the harm.
  4. A lawyer can only get you answers, and maybe, money. Best case scenario, accountability and an apology come too.
  5.  A lawsuit will require you to process the emotions head on – which is usually good.
  6. You may get an apology, you may not. Either way, you will have to find the strength to live each day even after the lawsuit has provided some minor amount of closure.
  7. Parents fight for their children.
  8. You will never forget what has been lost.
  9. You will never see the world the same.


So as I write this – I pray no one reads it. Because that would mean, no parent has suffered this kind of tragedy and is looking for answers. I pray no one needs to call me and ask what to do next. I pray no one needs to know – was this accident preventable? Was my child unlucky, or worse?

I pray my club membership closes, and no new members join this year.

But if you do need answers, I would be honored to help you.

Lauren – mother to miracle Maggie, now age 8 1/2






About the author

Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.

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