Medical Verdicts

Did high spinal during cesarean cause maternal brain damage?


Los Angeles County (Calif) Superior Court—When a gravida who had 3 prior cesareans presented to a hospital for a breech delivery, the physician opted to perform another cesarean. During the procedure, the patient stopped breathing, and her heart rate dropped significantly. The obstetrician temporarily halted the surgery to insert an endotracheal tube to ensure proper breathing. When the gravida’s vitals returned to normal, he resumed the cesarean section and delivered a healthy infant.

One hour later, during a CT scan, it was discovered that the endotracheal tube had become dislodged. A code blue was issued, but the patient had already developed hypoxic anoxic encephalopathy. She is now in a vegetative state and requires lifetime subacute care.

In suing, the patient’s husband claimed that his wife suffered a high spinal, whereby the anesthesia level had risen above her rib cage, restricting her breathing and depriving her brain of oxygen. He maintained that the doctor failed to recognize the high spinal and to properly secure the endotracheal tube.

The physician argued that the patient suffered either an air embolism or an amniotic fluid embolism during delivery, resulting in massive brain damage.

The jury awarded the plaintiff $5,524,163.

The cases presented here were compiled by Lewis L. Laska, editor of Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts. While there are instances when the available information is incomplete, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation.

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