Is it Medical Malpractice if New Jersey Doctors Fail to Recognize Child Abuse?

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NJ Child Abuse Medical Malpractice LawyersIt is a terrible question, but one that needs answering: can a doctor be held liable for medical malpractice in New Jersey if he or she fails to recognize that a child is the victim of abuse? According to a recent decision in South Jersey, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Specifically, a medical malpractice claim was brought against two doctors who failed to diagnose a broken leg in a 2-month-old boy who was being abused. The young boy was subsequently subjected to additional abuse, which resulted in a severe brain injury and permanent brain damage. After hearing the case, a jury in Gloucester County awarded the victim $45 million, declaring without hesitation that doctors failed to uphold the standard of care during their treatment of the child.

The aforementioned case involved Ethan Burgos-Bonilla, now 12, who was abused by his father, John Burgos, at just 2-months-old. Ethan’s mother, Sabrina Bonilla, initially sought treatment for her son’s injury on November 27, 2005, when she brought Ethan to the emergency room at what was previously called South Jersey Regional Medical Center. At the time, the young boy could not extend his right leg and was crying when anyone touched it. Doctor Dominic Diorio examined the child and ordered X-rays of the affected leg. After an external radiologist examined the X-ray results on his home computer, which according to the plaintiffs, does not provide adequate resolution, Dr. Diorio determined that there was not a definitive fracture.

The following day, an in-hospital radiologist examined the X-rays and said there were signs of a possible fracture. The radiologist provided his report to the current attending emergency room physician, Ilmia Choudhary, who failed to reach out the the child’s parents and order additional imaging tests. Dr. Choudhary claims to have never received the report. Ultimately, Ethan was sent home and no one from the hospital followed-up with his parents after he was discharged. Less than one month later, on December 17th, Sabrina again brought her son to the hospital, with seizures and an altered mental state. At this time, Ethan was diagnosed with a skull fracture and cranial bleeding, as well as the fractured femur which went undiagnosed during his November visit.

John Burgos eventually admitted to abusing his son, which led to the brain injury and leg fracture. He was sentenced to serve 8 years in New Jersey State Prison after being convicted of second-degree aggravated assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child. Unfortunately, Ethan suffered catastrophic brain damage which resulted in permanent cognitive deficiencies. He can now feed himself but was previously fed through a tube. The overarching question in this case is: should doctors have recognized that Ethan was an abused child? Did they deviate from the standard of care by failing to order additional tests and to follow-up with his parents? If doctors had diagnosed the fractured femur and contacted appropriate authorities to investigate the cause, might this child’s life have been indisputably better?

The recent jury verdict was decisive: doctors deviated from the proper standard of care. While Burgos, who was added to the case as a third-party defendant, was found 60 percent liable, Dr. Choudhary was apportioned 35 percent liability, and Dr. Diorio was found 5 percent liable. In other words, of the $45 million in damages, Burgos is responsible for $27 million, Choudhary for $15.75 million, and Diorio for $2.25 million.

Overall, the negligence in this case was manifold. Not only did the doctors fail to diagnose the fractured femur, they failed to order additional tests, to follow-up with the family, and to recognize the potential that the child was being abused. Pediatricians, emergency room personnel, and other medical professionals have a responsibility to their patients, particularly those who are too young to advocate for themselves. At Fronzuto Law Group, our New Jersey medical malpractice attorneys serve as passionate champions of these victims and their families, holding doctors and hospitals accountable for the suffering they have caused. If you suspect that medical negligence may have contributed to your injuries, or those of someone you love, contact our offices today at 973.435.4551 to discuss your case and learn more about your available legal options.

For additional information pertaining to this case, access the following article: $45M Awarded in Med Mal Suit Over Botched Diagnosis of Abused Infant

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