Medicolegal Issues

Mother has severe pain — uterine rupture: $9M settlement


Mother has severe pain — uterine rupture: $9M settlement

At 37 weeks’ gestation, a woman went to the hospital with contractions and abdominal pain 2 weeks before her scheduled delivery. She had a previous cesarean delivery. When seen by hospital nurses, she was dilated to .5-cm and reported a pain score of 8/10. Fetal heart-rate (FHR) monitoring showed that the mother was having irregular contractions and that the baby had a reassuring heart-rate tracing. Her ObGyn, contacted by phone, prescribed a medication to stop the contractions. The patient’s pain score dropped to 0/10, and she was discharged.

She returned the next night after midnight with contractions and a pain score of 9/10, and she was admitted. The nurses spoke with the ObGyn via phone 6 times over the next 8 hours. He prescribed 3 pain medications but the patient’s pain was unresponsive. When the patient called her ObGyn, he told her an ultrasound would be performed and the baby would be delivered in the morning. FHR monitoring became nonreassuring at 8:00 am. The ObGyn ordered a cesarean delivery via phone at 8:05 am, and said he was leaving for the hospital. An on-call ObGyn began the cesarean delivery at 8:52 am and found a uterine rupture with the baby outside the uterus. The patient’s ObGyn arrived just after the incision was made. The infant was delivered at 8:54 am.

The baby was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where he received therapeutic hypothermia. The parents were told that there was a 70% chance that the child would have cerebral palsy. The baby required a feeding tube and was hospitalized for 84 days. After discharge, he was moved to a long-term care facility. During his first year of life, he had pneumonia requiring hospitalization. Due to frequent aspiration of food and saliva into his airway, a tracheostomy was placed.

The child has hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy with severe brain damage, including spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He is blind but can hear. He will need 24-hour nursing care for the rest of his life.

PARENT'S CLAIM: The ObGyn did not properly react to the mother’s reported severe pain. A cesarean delivery should have been performed when the mother first reported to the hospital or when she returned the following night.

PHYSICIAN'S DEFENSE: The defense was expected to argue at trial that the mother was not in labor because medication had stopped contractions; therefore it was reasonable to mature longer before delivery. The case settled during the trial.

VERDICT: A $9 million Michigan settlement was reached during mediation.

Baby dies at birth: $1.3M settlement

A 39-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital at 36 weeks’ gestation with regular contractions. Results of an ultrasound showed normal amniotic fluid and an anterior placental location. The patient’s membranes were artificially ruptured, and she received an epidural. The baby remained at plus-one station for more than 7 hours until delivery. Three attempts to rotate the baby over the course of labor failed. Variable decelerations were present on FHR monitoring throughout labor, and deep decelerations were noted within 2 hours of delivery. The ObGyn ordered cesarean delivery due to arrest of labor and fetal distress; delivery began 64 minutes after the decision. The baby’s head was deeply impacted in the pelvis and a Bandl’s ring was encountered. Several attempts were made to dislodge the fetal head. The fourth attempt, in conjunction with enlarging the hysterotomy, was successful. At birth, the baby was pale with no palpable pulse. A 17-minute resuscitation effort failed. An autopsy concluded that the cause of death was a subgaleal hemorrhage in the setting of acute and subacute placental pathology.

PARENT'S CLAIM: The ObGyn was negligent for not performing a cesarean delivery when the baby could not be rotated from a plus-one station and fetal distress was evident. The ObGyn never accessed the patient’s electronic medical records during the 8 hours of labor. An audit trail review revealed the editing and alleged purging of medical records.

PHYSICIAN'S CLAIM: The case was defended on the basis of the autopsy findings, alleging that the baby was compromised before labor and delivery. A pathology expert testified that blood loss from a subgaleal hemorrhage was not necessarily lethal and may occur spontaneously. However, the pathologist conceded that she failed to note complications that occurred during delivery and acknowledged that the autopsy did not document the bruising of the baby’s head, ear, neck, shoulder, and torso that was evident in autopsy photographs.

VERDICT: A $1.3 million Virginia settlement was reached.

Was tachycardic FHR ignored? $3M settlement

A 25-year-old woman with gestational diabetes was scheduled for induction of labor at 39 2/7 weeks’ gestation. When she presented for induction, artificial rupture of the membranes demonstrated clear fluid with no sign of fetal or maternal distress. Labor and delivery was managed by a certified nurse midwife (CNM) employed by an ObGyn group. Just prior to the CNM’s arrival, the FHR monitor tracings showed a series of decelerations; the CNM stopped the oxytocin. As labor progressed, the CNM reintroduced and increased the oxytocin dosage. The infant’s heart rate became tachycardic. The CNM documented a bloody show of vaginal fluid. After the mother began pushing, the FHR signal was lost on the external monitor and only the maternal pulse was detected. As the infant’s head crowned, the FHR monitor was reconnected; an FHR of 210 bpm was detected showing marked tachycardia.

After vaginal delivery, the child was limp and unresponsive. He had hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and immediately began to have seizures. He was transferred to the NICU at another hospital where he stayed for 34 days. The infant was found to have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, a seizure disorder, right-sided torticollis, plagiocephaly, expressive language disorder, and dysphagia. He will require 24-hour nursing care for the rest of his life.

PARENT'S CLAIM: The CNM failed to consult an ObGyn to determine whether the patient needed an urgent cesarean delivery when FHR monitoring first indicated a worrisome fetal heart rate. The CNM improperly increased the dosage of oxytocin and did not remain at the mother’s bedside until she was fully dilated and began pushing. The CNM failed to rule out placental abruption or to communicate to the ObGyn that there was bloody show in vaginal fluid. The CNM interpreted the maternal heart rate as a reassuring fetal heart rate. When the monitor was reattached, the CNM failed to call for emergency assistance, despite signs of acute fetal distress. Testing ruled out any preexisting neurologic injury or congenital defect.

DEFENDANT'S DEFENSE: The CNM claimed that she delegated the heart monitoring to the labor nurse and relied on the nurse to report any irregularities. The case was settled during the trial.

VERDICT: A $3 million Virginia settlement was reached, which included $2.1M for the infant and $.9M for the mother.

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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