Malpractice Claims From Failure to Diagnose or Treat NEC

September 6, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Malpractice Claims From Failure to Diagnose or Treat NEC If your baby develops NEC, and you believe that the worsening condition or impact on your child is a failure on the part of a doctor or care team to identify and treat NEC within an appropriate time, you may be eligible for compensation on behalf of your child. As a parent or infant of a child that develops NEC, you may be unsure of your and your child's legal rights. The reality is that NEC, particularly in hospital and NICU settings, is a common condition that affects newborns and premature babies. Any delays in diagnosis or the administration of an effective treatment plan can ultimately cause your baby to face a more severe outcome and negative impacts on their health. This is a condition that providers should always be on the lookout for in young infants. Missing the warning signs of this life-threatening condition can be devastating to your baby.

The Symptoms & Signs of NEC in a Newborn or Infant

While a person of any age can develop NEC, or necrotizing enterocolitis, it generally affects babies, specifically preterm infants. The babies at highest risk of developing NEC in their first weeks of life are those born before they reach full-term and who are of very low birth weight. Full-term babies can also develop NEC but it is not as common. When a full-term baby does develop NEC they tend to also have been born with other illnesses or conditions that cause them to be weaker. NEC is not a long-term threat to infants, babies who develop NEC do so within a limited time frame after their birth. Most commonly between two weeks to two months after delivery. The onset of symptoms of necrotizing enterocolitis can come on without warning or begin to appear over a few days. Certain red flags indicate the need for a baby to undergo further diagnostics and examination for possible NEC in the days and weeks after they are born. Warning signs and symptoms of NEC can include:
  • Distention of the baby's belly
  • Baby's refusal to feed
  • Poor weight gain or growth
  • Vomiting yellow or green bile
  • Bloody diarrhea or stools
  • Irregular changes to vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing

Is NEC Difficult to Detect?

No one test will detect NEC in a baby but some various diagnostic tools and resources can in combination help a medical provider accurately diagnose a baby with NEC. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development estimates that of the nearly half a million premature babies that are born each year in the U.S. on average 9,000 of those babies will develop NEC. NEC is the overall leading cause of death in premature babies, which indicates the gravity of the condition and the need for providers to take any possible NEC symptoms seriously and perform more in-depth evaluations when a neonatal or newborn infant patient presents with these issues. If a provider suspects the development of NEC in a baby, the following tests can assist in diagnosis:
  • Blood testing to look for any indications of infection
  • Stool samples to detect the presence of blood
  • Diagnostic X-Rays that can show signs of NEC in the intestines or abdomen
  • The insertion of a needle into the baby's abdomen to identify whether fluid is present, a sign of perforation of the intestine

What Is a Diagnosis Failure or Failure of Treatment as It Relates to Necrotizing Enterocolitis?

Doctors have a duty of care they must uphold in the care of their patients. When an infant is particularly vulnerable or presents with signs of NEC, a doctor must follow the standards of his profession and act quickly to diagnose the condition and put into place an appropriate treatment plan. Unfortunately, babies with this condition cannot afford a wait-and-see approach. If a doctor delays testing or fails to identify the warning signs of NEC in a baby, they may put the baby's life in danger. Beyond diagnosis, a provider must also establish the treatment to give the baby the best possible outcome. Too little action on the part of a provider and failure to implement an aggressive treatment plan to combat the effects of the condition can leave babies with permanent damage or in danger of serious complications that can prove fatal. Treatment options for NEC will depend on the severity of the condition and can include:
  • Administration of antibiotics
  • Withholding of feeding by mouth, that can worsen the condition
  • Implementation of IV support for fluids and nutritional needs
  • In cases with severe damage to the intestines, surgery is often necessary

What Are the Consequences of an NEC Diagnosis Error or Failure to Properly Treat NEC for a Baby?

When a provider acts negligently in the care of a newborn with NEC, the baby will likely face additional dangers and complications due to a delay in diagnosis or treatment. The timeline from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis and the beginning of treatment can greatly affect the prognosis and the overall outcome of an infant that develops NEC.

Putting Baby's Life at Risk

Urgency surrounds NEC because of the condition's mortality rate. Studies report that between 15 to 40 percent of infants that develop NEC will ultimately die from the condition. A newborn has very little cushion for error when presenting NEC symptoms. A doctor that fails to perform the necessary diagnostics in time is jeopardizing the baby's survival by allowing the condition to worsen and spread, which can lead to a host of deadly complications including sepsis.

More Aggressive and Invasive Treatment Options

When there is a delay in the diagnosis or hesitation in the treatment of NEC the outcome can be severe if not fatal. The more time that the NEC disease remains active in a baby's system, the more significant damage to the baby's intestines and other surrounding organs and tissues. This can lead to the need for more invasive treatment options such as surgery to remove portions of the intestine and an ostomy procedure.

Lifelong Complications That Will Affect Your Child

Unfortunately, the complications from NEC do not only relate to the condition itself but also the often invasive treatment that can become necessary to save a baby's life. For some babies that do not develop a severe case of NEC, they may recover quickly and be able to resume normal development. However, babies that require invasive procedures to save their life from NEC, can face many complications throughout their life from the condition. Complications after NEC can include:
  • Short-gut or short-bowel syndrome
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Susceptibility to infections
  • Delays in development and growth
  • A recurrence of NEC
  • Liver disease

Who Is Responsible for Failures in Diagnosis and Treatment for NEC?

If your baby develops NEC and suffers serious consequences, you may hold several parties liable if the condition or complications arose from a provider's negligence. An NEC case will likely be a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit against the parties responsible for the harm to your baby. The parties that could be at fault for the injuries to your child after an NEC infection include:
  • A licensed healthcare professional - The person primarily responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of a baby with NEC is their presiding doctor. If a doctor does not meet the standard of care required by their position they are likely negligent and can be responsible for the injuries to your baby and losses you and your baby will incur in the aftermath of NEC.
  • The hospital or medical facility in charge of your baby's care - It is not only the hospital's responsibility to ensure the doctors within their facility have the qualifications and capability to provide professional and high-quality care to their patients, but they must also ensure the facility is following proper protocols and standards to avoid NEC infection whenever possible. There are situations in which NEC outbreaks can occur within a hospital. NEC, while not contagious, can occur after exposure of an infant to some viruses and bacteria. If a hospital does not contain the pathogens that can cause NEC and your baby develops the condition, they can be liable to you.

Can You Sue for Malpractice if Your Infant Develops NEC?

In most cases, your first option will be to file a medical malpractice insurance claim with the help of your attorney. Many times an attorney will be able to help you successfully negotiate a settlement on a medical malpractice insurance claim. If, for some reason, negotiation is not possible, your attorney can move forward with a lawsuit against the parties responsible. The law allows for a victim of negligence or, in this case, a parent to seek compensation on behalf of their child for the actions or inaction that lead to the injuries or death of your loved one. Premature babies or those born with other conditions are at the mercy of their providers to help them grow stronger and develop. When a doctor fails to meet the needs of your baby and makes them vulnerable to an NEC infection or fails to diagnose and treat the condition, you can hold them responsible for the damage and suffering they cause to your child and family.

What Damages Are Potentially Available to You in an NEC Lawsuit or Claim?

The compensation that might be available to you in an NEC case will depend on the severity of the condition of your baby, and the impact the outcome after the condition will have on their life as they grow and develop into adulthood. NEC cases are complex and calculating the damage and losses to your child throughout their lifetime can be difficult. Babies that suffer serious complications after NEC may require lifelong support and medical care to help them maintain the best quality of life possible. An attorney can work alongside you to make sure that they consider and calculate all losses when seeking compensation against the parties responsible for you and your child's losses. Damages in an NEC medical malpractice insurance claim and a lawsuit can include:
  • Medical expenses for treatment and care now and in the future that relate to NEC
  • The pain and suffering of your baby, which can include surgeries, recoveries, and treatments
  • Loss of income to you as parents if you must miss work or stay home long-term to care for your baby after NEC
  • The consideration of future impacts on your baby's quality of life and enjoyment of life
  • Compensation for the wrongful death of an infant that dies due to medical negligence after developing NEC

Should You Contact an Attorney to Help You if Your Baby Develops NEC?

It is not an easy feat to go against doctors and medical organizations to seek justice and compensation for a baby who may be a victim of medical malpractice. These parties want to protect their interests at all costs and will not make it easy for you to fight for the compensation you deserve. A lawyer can file an insurance claim and will represent you in a lawsuit should you need to protect your baby's legal rights. If your baby develops NEC while in a NICU or under the care of a medical provider and you blame a failure in the process of diagnosis or treatment, you may seek compensation. An attorney can discuss the circumstances of your baby's case and explain how they can help you seek justice and recovery for your losses. The Dolman Law Group works with local counsel in any jurisdiction outside Florida for the purpose of filing lawsuits in jurisdictions wherein we are not licensed. Thus, we will follow each State's ethical rules to ensure a local attorney is involved. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 3375 (833) 606-DRUG [3784]


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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