Treating Children: How does Pediatric Malpractice Occur?

Children often present with different symptoms than adults do. Children’s bodies are smaller, in the process of developing, and generally more fragile than an adult’s. Therefore, it is important to understand what to look for when diagnosing a child.

Childhood Infections and Malpractice

Healthcare workers can be held accountable for malpractice as a result of medication or diagnostic errors in the treatment of childhood infections and illnesses. 

Many pediatric medical malpractice claims involve the treatment of specific infections, including meningitis, appendicitis, and viral infections such as H1N1. Children also present with different symptoms than adults which can make proper and timely diagnosis challenging. 

Delay in treatment can cause the health of the child to deteriorate as the infection advances; this can result in irreversible damage. The damage can be more profound on the growing, developing body of a small child. 


The most common illness associated with pediatric malpractice cases in the United States is meningitis. Cases involving meningitis arise when the physician fails to diagnose the symptoms or test correctly for the infection. 

If a meningitis diagnosis is incorrect, missed entirely or not found in a timely manner, the outcome of can result in permanent neurological damage or in the worst case scenario, death. The most common forms of meningitis contracted by infants are Group B strep and E Coli. Infants can contract Group B strep during labor and delivery. Group B strep is an incredibly deadly and fast moving infection. 

Symptoms of pediatric meningitis include:

  • jaundice (a yellowish tint to the skin)
  • stiffness of the body and neck
  • a lower-than-normal temperature
  • a weak suck
  • a high-pitched cry
  • a bulging fontanelle


According to the AAP (American Association of Pediatrics), 27% of infants suffering from appendicitis are misdiagnosed. Female misdiagnosis is the most prevalent, as the symptoms are often attributed to inflammatory pelvic disease or a urinary tract infection. Issues arise when identification of the disease has been delayed to the point where the damage becomes irreversible, even when a correct diagnosis is given. 

Some of the symptoms an infant or small child may present with are:

  • pain that starts near the navel and spreads to the lower right part of the stomach 
  • blood in either the vomit or stool
  • green liquid vomit
  • distended abdomen 
  • abdominal pain accompanied by the child laying on their side with legs drawn up toward abdomen
  • abdominal pain accompanied by walking bent at the middle

Medication Errors

More than five percent of pediatric medical malpractice cases are due to medication errors

When prescribing and administering medications to pediatric patients, the physician needs to take into account the size and weight of the child. Failure to do so can have lasting and irreparable damages which ultimately can cause lifelong injury or even death.

The four most common mistakes are made during:

  • ordering of medications 
  • administration of medications 
  • transcription of medications 
  • dispensing of medications 

What happens when infection is left untreated?

Any infection can lead to sepsis, which is the body’s severe response to infection and can occur if an infection is misdiagnosed or left untreated Viral infections and bacterial infections must be diagnosed correctly as their treatments are very different. 

The body’s natural response to infection is to release chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection. Sepsis occurs when the body’s response to these chemicals are out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems. Without timely and appropriate treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. 

Children, particularly newborns and young infants, can be more susceptible to developing sepsis. Each year in the U.S., more than 75,000 children develop severe sepsis. 

What are your options? 

If your child is suffering or has suffered from any of the mentioned illnesses and sustained an injury as a result, it is beneficial to consult with an attorney who specializes in pediatric malpractice.

The lasting impacts of a failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, mistreatment, or failure to prescribe or administer medication properly can be damaging. Especially in the case of an infant or child who incurred injury as it can have lasting and profound effect on the child’s quality of life.

How Can Miller & Wagner Help?

Do you think that your child was injured or died from medical malpractice? We can help. Defendants in a pediatric malpractice lawsuit might include family physicians, pediatricians, surgeons, radiologists, emergency room physicians, or hospitals. 

We work with doctors from each relevant specialty to see whether your child’s condition and medical records indicate the likelihood of medical malpractice. We offer free consultations, contact us today.