Medicolegal Issues

In Child Abuse Case, Everyone Fails

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In May 2009, an employee of the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services brought a child to an urban medical center for evaluation of possible child abuse that had been reported by the child’s maternal grandmother. The infant, who was two-and-a-half months old at the time, was bleeding from the blood vessels of both eyes and had bruises on both sides of his face.

The treating physician, Dr A., ordered a series of x-rays of the entire body and CT of the head. The CT findings were initially read as negative, and the baby was discharged on the same day with a diagnosis of “suspected child abuse.” Two radiologists who reviewed the CT results identified fluid on the brain.

Three weeks later, the infant’s parents brought him to another medical center. He was bleeding from the mouth, and a lacerated frenum was diagnosed. Attending physician Dr K. discharged the infant with a notation that the injury had been sustained when the baby’s father “tried to put a bottle in the child’s mouth.”

In mid-July 2009, at the age of 4 months, the child was severely beaten by his father and sustained brain damage. The child was ­removed from his parents’ custody and placed with his grandmother. The father was later convicted of aggravated assault and child cruelty.

The child’s grandmother alleged negligence by the defendants in failing to recognize child abuse, which would have resulted in the infant being removed from his home earlier, before the brain damage could occur.

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