Medical Verdicts

Nonstress test misread, call to Ob delayed


Undisclosed County (Calif) Court

Following a nonstress test for fetal well-being, a 20-year-old woman at 37 weeks’ gestation was discharged from a hospital. She called 6 days later, noting decreased fetal movement, and returned to the hospital the following day; fetal monitoring revealed a nonreassuring heart rate tracing.

Rather than contact the physician on duty, a nurse called the defendant attending obstetrician, who arrived approximately 30 minutes later. Three hours passed before a cesarean delivery was ordered, and another 1 hour before the child was delivered. His Apgar scores at birth were 0 and 0; he now suffers developmental delay, as well as inability to walk or feed himself.

It was revealed at trial that the non-stress test at 37 weeks showed a sinusoidal pattern, which the plaintiffs claimed the nurse failed to recognize. The plaintiffs argued that the staff should have called an obstetrician immediately upon inspection of the fetal heart rate tracing.

The hospital claimed nurses acted appropriately, and charged that any negligence was that of the defendant physician.

  • The plaintiff was awarded a $16 million default judgment against the obstetrician. The hospital settled for $1.4 million.
The cases in this column are selected by the editors of OBG Management from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska, of Nashville, Tenn ( 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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