A birth injury lawsuit from Illinois caught my eye recently because it illustrates a common problem with lawsuits against the federal government. As a southern Illinois medical malpractice attorney, I often tell clients to act very quickly when they have a claim against a government agency, because these agencies usually have more requirements than a private entity before they will permit a lawsuit. And complying with those requirements takes so much time that the deadline to sue can run out. Deadline issues blocked a lawsuit in Arteaga v. United States, in which Gabriela Arteaga sued on behalf of her minor child, I.G., for an injury the child sustained during birth. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Federal Tort Claims Act applied because the clinic received federal funding, and the Act does not permit its statute of limitations to be extended.
The baby weighed 11 pounds at birth, making her a very large baby. During the course of the vaginal delivery, the baby’s shoulder got caught behind the mother’s pelvis, a condition known as shoulder dystocia. This can be a serious medical emergency because it can cut off the baby’s oxygen, killing brain cells, so attendants intervened to pull very hard on the baby, resulting in an injury to her brachial plexus nerves that has limited the range of movement in her right arm. Arteaga consulted a total of four lawyers before finding one whose representation was permanent. The second lawyer advised her that the statute of limitations for injuries to children in Illinois is eight years. When the baby was nearly six, Arteaga finally sued Erie Family Health Center and its nurse-midwives. But Erie is a private business that takes federal funding, making its employees federal employees for legal purposes.
The district court dismissed Arteaga’s suit for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Federal Tort Claims Act. After she did, she re-filed, but the government successfully moved to dismiss again, arguing that the two-year Tort Claims Act statute of limitation had expired before any of Arteaga’s legal actions. On appeal, Arteaga argued that the claim did not accrue until 2009, when she discovered the fact that she had to use the Tort Claims Act. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, saying all that is needed to start the clock ticking is knowledge of an injury and the person likely responsible for that injury. In this case, the court said, Arteaga didn’t get a second legal opinion fast enough, and the lawyers she consulted also didn’t do a thorough job of investigating the circumstances of the case. Arteaga’s argument that the statute of limitations should be tolled also failed; it could be tolled, the Seventh said, but the “incompetence” of the various lawyers who represented Arteaga is not the government’s fault.
As a Missouri medical malpractice lawyer, I’m always disappointed to see cases dismissed because of deadline problems rather than on their merits. That’s why it’s absolutely vital for people with potential claims against a government agency to call us as soon as they realize they might sue. At Carey, Danis & Lowe, we have substantial experience with all kinds of injury cases, and we know how to meet the various administrative and legal requirements governments make before injured people can file a lawsuit. Our St. Louis medical malpractice attorneys also have substantial experience with catastrophic and complex injuries, which is important when dealing with a birth injury like this one—so a child whose future has been compromised can get the money she deserves.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients across Missouri and southern Illinois who were seriously injured by someone else’s negligence—including bad decisions by a medical provider. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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