Exploring the Complex Medical Malpractice Case of Justina Pelletier

Did the physicians at Boston Children’s Hospital meet the standards of medical care in treating Justina Pelletier?

A troubling medical malpractice case filed against Boston Children’s Hospital has captured national attention.  In 2013, 14-year-old Justina Pelletier was being treated at Tufts for mitochondrial disease, which causes nerve and muscle issues. During a family trip, her family took Justina to Boston Children’s Hospital.  There, doctors put Justina into a psychiatric ward where she remained for 10 months. Her family disagreed with the diagnosis, which resulted in a custody battle and the state taking custody of the child. Now, Justina’s family is suing the hospital for malpractice and violation of her civil rights. 

Allegations of Munchausen’s 

Attorneys on both sides agree that Justina Pelletier’s medical history is complicated. Born premature, Justina suffered several ailments throughout her childhood.  She often suffered from headaches and stomach pains. Doctors at Tufts Medical Center labeled her as having a mitochondrial disorder. While these factors are agreed upon, opinions differ significantly as to what happened at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

Justina arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital, where doctor’s allegedly suspected her parents of having Munchausen syndrome.  This disease involves parents fabricating a child’s illness and symptoms, thus forcing the child to receive unnecessary medical care.  The hospital filed a child abuse claim based on their beliefs. Allegedly, doctors further threatened to take Justina away if her parents did not consent to the treatment plan.  Pelletier was later taken into state custody and placed in a psychiatric ward at the hospital.

Lawyers representing the Pelletier’s state that Justina is now traumatized by her time in the psychiatric ward.  She now suffers from night terrors and fears of being taken from her family. The hospital, however, counters that it spent considerable time investigating the child’s medical history.  The hospital found that other physicians had recommended psychiatric care, but her parents disagreed. Lawyers for the hospital have attempted to justify their suspicions of Munchausen’s.

Now, it is clear that Justina’s parents never had Munchausen’s and Justina continues to suffer from her mitochondrial disorder.  The question to be answered during the trial is now whether the doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital provided adequate medical care.  The trial will involve numerous witnesses and some complicated medical questions. Its outcome will be closely followed as it could have implications for future medical malpractice cases.

About the Author
Of all the different areas in medical malpractice, it is podiatry malpractice that has had a particular interest to me. With 42 years practicing law and representing hundreds of victims of malpractice, I have created a law practice in which my clients are comfortable knowing that their case is being handled with my personal attention, in the most professional manner, and without unreasonable delays.