Medicolegal Issues

Claimed missteps lead to brain damage: $53M award

Notable judgments and settlements


Claimed missteps lead to brain damage: $53M award

At 2:00 AM, a woman at 40 weeks’ gestation went to a hospital because she felt a decrease in fetal movement. At birth, the baby was not breathing. He was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit where he was resuscitated and placed on life support. He remained in critical care for 4 weeks. The child has cerebral palsy and cannot walk, talk, or care for himself. He will need 24-hour care for the rest of his life.


The lawsuit cited 20 alleged missteps by physicians and nurses, including failure to: react to abnormal fetal heart-rate patterns that indicated fetal distress, perform a timely cesarean delivery, and follow a chain of command. During the 12 hours that the mother was in labor at the hospital, nurses and physicians allegedly ignored her. Although the fetal heart-rate monitor showed fetal distress, the mother continued to lie unattended. At 12:40 PM, physicians called for cesarean delivery due to fetal distress, but it took an hour for the child to be born.

The negligence of the hospital staff and delay in delivery caused hypoxia, resulting in cerebral palsy. All medical records from the hospital’s neonatal clinic show that he suffered hypoxia at birth.


The mother and child were treated for an infection, which is a recognized cause of cerebral palsy. The child was born with normal blood oxygen levels. His injury occurred before the mother came to the hospital.


A $53 million Illinois verdict was returned. The hospital applied for a mistrial based on allegedly inflammatory comments by the prosecuting attorney, but that was dismissed.

Birth trauma: $2.75M settlement

A woman had her first prenatal visit at 21 weeks’ gestation. Her advanced maternal age (39 years) and poor health history, including prior delivery of a baby with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), put her at risk; her prenatal care was transferred to a high-risk clinic.

At her next prenatal visit, records noted that the mother’s job required excessive standing, that she tested positive for marijuana, and that she was at risk for IUGR. Notes did not say that the mother was informed of her IUGR risk nor was a plan created for additional testing to monitor IUGR.

Ultrasonography (US) performed at 25 weeks’ gestation estimated that the baby’s weight was in the 11th- to 12th-week percentile. Amniotic fluid volume was noted as normal.

The mother missed her next appointment but returned at 28 weeks’ gestation, when she reported a headache and was found to have high blood pressure. US revealed normal fetal heart anatomy but amniotic fluid volume was noted to have decreased since the first US. The mother missed the next several appointments.

When she presented at 33 weeks’ gestation, her blood pressure was 160/97 mm Hg, fetal heart-rate tones were normal, and there was positive fetal movement. Fundal height measurement revealed a 3-cm discrepancy in date and size, suggesting a small baby, decreased amniotic fluid, or both. The ObGyn ordered testing for the next day. When a nonstress test performed from 8:44 AM to 9:10 AM was nonreassuring, the mother was ordered to immediately go to the hospital. She did not arrive at the hospital until 11:13 AM, when she was placed on fetal heart-rate monitor; test results were nonreassuring. At 11:30 AM, US revealed IUGR and oligohydramnios. An urgent cesarean delivery was performed and the baby was born at 11:56 AM.

The child’s Apgar scores were 4 and 9 at 1 and 5 minutes, respectively. The baby developed white matter brain damage and grade III and IV intraventricular hemorrhages due to hypoxia, ischemia, and metabolic acidosis. A maternal drug screen was positive for marijuana. Placental pathology revealed multiple abnormalities including placental infarcts involving approximately 50% of placental tissue, abnormal vascular changes, intervillous fibrin deposition, and chronic villitis.

At trial, the child had developmental delays, cognitive defects, learning disabilities, and breakthrough seizures.


The mother claimed that the high-risk clinic was negligent. A plan should have been put into place at her first visit to monitor for IUGR based on her history. She was not advised of her risk of having another IUGR baby. Fundal height measurement, US to test for IUGR, or assessments of fetal heart-rate tones and fetal movement were not performed regularly. If a nonstress test had been performed earlier than 33 weeks’ gestation, she might have been admitted to the hospital for monitoring and earlier delivery, resulting in a healthier baby.


The mother was noncompliant and missed most of her prenatal appointments. She also continued to smoke marijuana throughout her pregnancy although she was told to stop. When the mother arrived at the prenatal clinic at 33 weeks’ gestation, tests were ordered and delivery occurred in a timely fashion. Any problems suffered by the child were a result of prematurity and damage that occurred during the 5 weeks of missed prenatal appointments.


A $2.75M Missouri settlement was reached.

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