Medicolegal Issues

Delay in delivery--mother and child die: $1.4M settlement


Delay in delivery--mother and child die: $1.4M settlement

Results of ultrasonography on January 8 identified placenta accreta and placenta previa in a woman at 36 weeks of gestation. On January 14, she was referred to a university medical center for treatment. Instead of scheduling a prompt delivery, the ObGyns sent her home with a plan to deliver her at 39 weeks. Nine days later, the mother collapsed at home. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where an emergency cesarean delivery was performed. She died after delivery. The baby was profoundly acidotic and asphyxiated and died 10 months later.


The standard of care for placenta accreta requires delivery between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation. The mother died from a placental abruption and amniotic fluid embolism. Placenta accreta increases the risk of catastrophic hemorrhage. If delivery had occurred on January 14, both the mother and child would be alive.


The case settled before trial.


A $1.425 million Georgia settlement was reached. The settlement amount was limited by a damages cap unique to the defendant hospital.

Placental abruption not detected: $6.2M settlement

At 24 weeks of gestation, a mother presented to the hospital with premature contractions that subsided after her arrival. She was discharged from the hospital. The woman gave birth in her bathtub several hours later. The baby was 10 weeks premature. He suffered profound brain damage and has significant physical defects.


Neither the ObGyn nor the hospital staff appreciated that the mother was experiencing placental abruption. If diagnosed, treatment could have prevented fetal injury.


The case was settled prior to trial.


A $6.2 million New York settlement was reached.

Child has brachial plexus injury: $2M award

A woman was admitted to the hospital for elective induction of labor. She gained a significant amount of weight while pregnant. During delivery, her family practitioner (FP) determined that vacuum extraction was needed but he was not qualified to use the device. An in-house ObGyn was called in to use the vacuum extractor. The FP delivered the baby's shoulders. The infant was born with a floppy right arm and later diagnosed with rupture injuries to the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae and permanent brachial plexus damage. She has limited range of motion in her right arm and shoulder.


The FP was relatively inexperienced in labor and delivery. He should not have ordered vacuum extraction because of risk factors including the mother's small stature, her significant weight gain during pregnancy, the use of epidural anesthesia, and induction of labor. Using vacuum extraction increases the risk of shoulder dystocia.

The FP improperly applied excessive downward traction on the fetus causing the infant to sustain a brachial plexus injury.

The FP did not notify the parents of the child's injury immediately after birth; he told them about the injury just before discharge.


There is no evidence in the medical records of a shoulder dystocia; "no shoulder dystocia" was charted shortly after delivery. No one in the delivery room testified to a delay in delivering the infant's shoulders. The mother's internal contractions caused the injury. The baby was not injured to the extent claimed.


The ObGyn who used the vacuum extractor settled before the trial for $300,000. A $2 million Illinois verdict was returned against the FP.

Delay in treating infant in respiratory distress: $7.27M settlement

A child was delivered by a certified nurse midwife at a birthing center. At birth, the baby had a heart rate of 60 bpm and was in respiratory distress but there was no one at the clinic qualified to intubate the infant. Emergency personnel were called but the infant remained in respiratory distress for 8 minutes. The baby experienced birth asphyxia with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy resulting in severe cerebral palsy.


The birthing center was poorly staffed and unprepared to treat an emergency situation.


The defendants denied all allegations of negligence. The case was settled during trial.


A $7.27 million Pennsylvania settlement was reached.

Was the spinal block given at wrong level?

A MOTHER WENT TO THE HOSPITAL in labor. Prior to cesarean delivery, she underwent an anesthetic spinal block administered by a CRNA. Initially, the patient reported pain shortly after the injection was performed until the block worked. The baby's delivery was uneventful.

In recovery a few hours later, the patient reported intense and uncontrollable pain in her legs. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed a fluid pocket on her spinal cord at the L1-L2 level. The patient has permanent pain, numbness, and tingling in in both legs.


The CRNA failed to insert the spinal block needle in the proper location.


The CRNA contended that he complied with the standard of care. He claimed that the patient had an unusual spinal cord anatomy: it was tethered down to the L3-L4 level.


A $509,152 Kentucky verdict was returned.

These cases were selected by the editors of OBG Management from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska ( The information available to the editors about the cases presented here is sometimes incomplete. Moreover, the cases may or may not have merit. Nevertheless, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation and are meant to illustrate nationwide variation in jury verdicts and awards.

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