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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hospital Wins 2 Rulings on Breastfeeding Mix-Up

(CN) - A Tennessee hospital that mistakenly gave a newborn baby to the wrong mother to breastfeed successfully defended claims from both mothers involved in the mix-up in the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

Baptist Hospital employees accidentally brought Amber Hobbs' newborn daughter, Chloe King, to Sonja Filson, who was in the hospital after giving birth to her second child, Trista Filson.

While nursing the newborn in her dimly lit hospital room, Filson noticed that her daughter was crying and screaming more than usual. She flipped on the lights and saw that the baby wasn't hers, and their wristbands didn't match. She jumped out of bed, allegedly injuring the area around her incision. Trista was later found in Chloe's bassinet.

Chloe, who had never been nursed before, had to have her stomach suctioned to prevent infection. Filson took a blood test to alleviate Hobbs' concerns about a stranger having nursed her child. Filson also asked for a DNA test, to know for certain that the infant with Trista's ID bracelet was really Trista. Test results 10 days later confirmed that she had the right baby.

Filson and her husband sued hospital owner Seton Corp. for negligent infliction of emotional distress, claiming the hospital's error caused them to suffer from depression, sleep deprivation and emotional trauma. The biological uncertainty had clouded the "first 10 magical days of bonding between a mother and child," Filson added.

Baptist Hospital faced a second lawsuit from Hobbs, who alleged negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence and battery on Chloe's behalf.

The hospital admitted to simple negligence, but moved for summary judgment in both cases, claiming neither mother offered expert medical or psychological proof to back up her "severe emotional injury" claims.

The Filsons characterized the move as an attempt to "grossly and unduly trivialize the real ordeal of the plaintiffs," but responded with expert affidavits. A Tennessee psychiatrist stated that Filson suffered from dysthymia, described as "a chronic low-grade depressive syndrome." Filson also filed her own affidavit, detailing the alleged fear and uncertainty she felt after the incident. She said the feelings lingered long after she received the DNA test results.

The trial court declined to fully dismiss either complaint. Hobbs' battery and negligence claims survived, as did Filson's emotional injury claim. But their partial victories were short-lived.

The appellate court relied on the standard of proof established by the Tennessee Supreme Court, which found that plaintiffs can't recover for fright, fear and hurt feelings, unless those emotions would "disable a reasonable, normally constituted person from coping adequately with the stress." The high court added that the severity of the injury must be established through expert proof.

In the Filsons' case, the court dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety, saying the couple failed to establish that the hospital's negligence caused mental injury.

The appellate court also threw out Hobbs' claim, saying the milk mix-up hadn't harmed her daughter. Baptist Hospital had "provided evidence to refute every argument" the mother presented, Judge Patricia Cottrell wrote, including a doctor's statement that suctioning isn't painful.

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