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Who has a Right to My Medical Malpractice Award?


In 2000, Sandra and William Earl Armstrong gave birth to a baby girl. Delivered by caesarean section the baby was injured during birth, leaving her legally deaf and blind. She cannot sit, walk, crawl or talk. She suffers from mental retardation, a seizure disorder and requires 12 to 18 hours a day of skilled nursing care. The family sued the obstetrician, among others, in 2003. At trial, a history of drug abuse on the part of the obstetrician was proven, although he denied using illegal drugs at the time of the delivery.

The parents received a lump sum settlement of $2.8 million in 2006 on behalf of their daughter’s claim. However, they resided in one of several states, including Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, that assert liens on judgments to recover their own medical expenses on behalf of plaintiffs. In this case, the state of North Carolina put a lien on one third of the settlement, for $933,333.33. The state showed it had spent $1.9 million in health care expenses on behalf of the plaintiff’s treatment.

The state’s lien was placed without regard to apportionment of liability to medical costs, future costs, general damages, or any separation of award. The family challenged the North Carolina law as conflicting with federal law for failing to consider the source of damages. The 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the family and held that federal law prohibits state governments from imposing liens on property outside of medical costs. The case is currently in review by the US Supreme Court.

When you start litigation over medical malpractice issues, you can never tell where your case may end up. You need experienced counsel to provide the best advice possible for your situation.

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