Allegheny County settles with parents improperly accused of child abuse
Allegheny County has paid a $35,000 settlement to parents who say a UPMC doctor misdiagnosed their infant son’s bruises as abuse and not a medical condition.
According to the complaint, filed in March in federal court against the county and the doctor, the 6-month-old baby’s pediatrician noticed four bruises on him during a July 2015 wellness check. Court documents identify the parents and child only by their initials.
The bruises found were on the baby’s forehead, inner elbow, lower back and the bottom of his leg, the complaint said.
The pediatrician’s office was concerned the baby might have a coagulation disorder, which could be making him bruise easily, and sent him to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the complaint said.
Dr. Adelaide Eichman, a doctor at Children’s Hospital, tested the baby and found no medical issues that would cause easy bruising, and diagnosed the bruises as abuse, the complaint said.
Following the abuse diagnosis, employees from county’s Office of Children, Youth and Families interviewed the parents, formed a safety plan that required a home inspection and weekly home visits and barred unsupervised contact between the father and the 6-month-old and a second child, the complaint said.
The parents were not told they could appeal the safety plan, the complaint said.
In a court document, the county responded to this allegation: “The plaintiffs voluntarily agreed to safety plan. No appeal was possible nor was such a process required under the circumstances.”
In a court document filed by Eichman’s attorney, Eichman denied the allegations. UPMC, via a spokeswoman, declined comment.
A county representative declined comment.
On Aug. 12, 2015, the mother took the baby to the Hemophilia Center of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh, where testing was again normal, but physicians said there are some medical conditions that cause bruising that cannot be detected in tests of babies younger than six months, the complaint said.
On Aug. 19, the father was charged with aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child, citing Eichman’s report, the complaint said.
The next day, the father turned himself in and spent one night in jail, and was released on bond with the condition he have no contact with either of his children, the complaint said.
The mother and the two children moved out of their house, where the father lived, and moved in with her mother, the complaint said.
For several months, both parents had to undergo psychiatric evaluations, parenting classes and weekly home visits from child protective services, the complaint said.
On Nov. 11, the Hemophilia Center diagnosed the baby and his mother with abnormal platelet function, a condition that makes it easier to bruise, which didn’t show up in Eichman’s testing, the complaint said.
In the days following, Eichman issued an addendum to her July report to include the diagnosis, the criminal charges were withdrawn and the home visits ended, the complaint said.
The settlement was included in a county document released last week.
A court document filed in July by assistant solicitor John Bacharach stated: “At all times relevant hereto, the county defendants took appropriate actions and used appropriate customs, directives, policies, practices, procedures, and protocols to protect plaintiff’s rights and to meet all duties the county defendants had to plaintiff.”