Medicolegal Issues

Preeclampsia test cancelled: $5M settlement, and more

Notable judgements and settlements

Additional Medical Verdicts
• Umbilical cord damaged at delivery: $1.5M settlement
• What caused sepsis after oophorectomy?
• Ectopic pregnancy misdiagnosed
• Infant dies. Was it fetal hydrops?
• Child has permanent shoulder injury: $1M verdict
• Parvovirus exposure: fetal death


Preeclampsia test cancelled: $5M settlement
A 35-year-old woman was pregnant with her first child. Prior to and during her pregnancy, she took medication for chronic hypertension. Although another ObGyn had ordered a 24-hour urinalysis to test for preeclampsia, the ObGyn who saw the mother in early May for a third trimester visit cancelled the test.

The mother delivered the child by cesarean delivery when the fetal heart-rate monitor indicated fetal distress. After birth, the child received a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia, and dystonia.

Parents' claim: The decision by the second ObGyn to cancel the 24-hour urinalysis eliminated the opportunity to diagnose preeclampsia superimposed on chronic hypertension. Over time, preeclampsia impaired blood flow to the placenta and fetus. If the mother had been assessed in early May, the injury could have been prevented.

Defendants' defense: The case was settled during trial.

Verdict: A $5,000,000 Illinois settlement was reached through mediation with the hospital physicians’ group and 2 ObGyns.

Umbilical cord damaged at delivery: $1.5M settlement
A mother at full term presented to the hospital in labor. During delivery, the umbilical cord was severed during maneuvers to address shoulder dystocia. The fetus was stillborn.

Parents' claim: The patient told the nurses that shoulder dystocia had been encountered during a previous delivery. Shoulder dystocia maneuvers were not performed correctly. Cesarean delivery was never offered.

Hospital's Defense: The nurses called the certified nurse midwife who was managing labor and delivery to alert her of the patient’s history. The midwife denied receiving such a call. The case was settled during trial.

Verdict: A $1.5 million Illinois settlement was reached.

What caused sepsis after oophorectomy?
A woman had a cyst on her left ovary. The ObGyn began surgery laparoscopically but converted to open salpingo-oophorectomy because of extensive adhesions. Four days after surgery, the patient received a diagnosis of peritonitis and sepsis due to spillage from the sigmoid colon. She required a second surgery to repair the damage, followed by a long recovery.

Patient's claim: The ObGyn should not have attempted laparoscopic surgery; he knew of her extensive surgical history and should have anticipated the presence of adhesions. If the laparoscopic entry site had been examined properly intraoperatively, the injury could have been repaired immediately.

Physician's defense: The ObGyn had no reason to believe the patient would have adhesions in the umbilical area; prior surgeries occurred in the upper abdomen. Laparoscopic surgery with Veress needle access is an accepted method used by obstetric surgeons. The ObGyn carefully irrigated and inspected the abdomen before closing. Injury to the sigmoid colon is a known complication of left oophorectomy.

At the time of surgery, the patient was likely suffering from diverticulosis, a long-term condition that can lead to a leak in the large colon. The weakness in the patient’s colon caused a postsurgical leak; signs and symptoms did not appear until 4 days after surgery.

Verdict: A California defense verdict was returned.

Ectopic pregnancy misdiagnosed
A 39-year-old woman reported abdominal pain to her ObGyn. After ultrasonography (US), she was given a diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy. The ObGyn administered methotrexate to terminate the pregnancy. Five days later, repeat US showed a viable uterine pregnancy. Based on the risks posed by methotrexate, the patient terminated the pregnancy.

Patient's claim: The ObGyn misdiagnosed the pregnancy as ectopic.

Hospital's Defense: The case was settled during trial.

Verdict: A $625,000 Illinois settlement was reached.

Infant dies. was it fetal hydrops?
A woman was admitted to the hospital in full-term labor. She was cared for by a team of residents and nurses supervised by an attending ObGyn. During labor, the staff documented late, variable decelerations with periods of minimal or undetectable variability on the fetal heart-rate monitor. The fetal heart rate, however, was reported as being reassuring overall.

After 90 minutes, fetal heart-rate tracings became non-reassuring. Because the baby's head was crowning, the ObGyn used vacuum extraction for delivery. The infant was born without signs of life. A neonatologist thought the infant appeared hydropic with generalized edema, ascites, and pleural effusion. Efforts at resuscitation were unsuccessful until the neonatologist performed thoracentesis. The infant died several hours later. Cause of death has charted as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and multisystem organ failure.

Estate's claim: The hospital staff deviated from the standard of care by failing to appropriately communicate, failing to recognize fetal distress, and failing to perform a cesarean delivery when tracings were nonreassuring. An expert neonatologist claimed that failure to react to fetal distress caused the fetus to develop severe intrauterine hypoxic ischemia causing death.

Defendants' defense: Overall, the fetal heart-rate tracings were reassuring. The team communicated appropriately and kept the attending ObGyn alerted to the status. Delivery was expedited when fetal distress was evident.

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