Did mix-up on ultrasound lead to fetal death?
Snohomish County (Wash) Superior Court
A day after a 36-year-old gravida at 36 weeks’ gestation was placed on bed rest for mild preeclampsia, she called the clinic to report that her fetus had stopped moving. The on-call family physician read the fetal heart monitor as nonreactive and ordered a STAT biophysical profile ultrasound and a follow-up ultrasound for later that night.
A complete obstetrical ultrasound was performed instead, and the records did not document any follow-up. A few days later at a regularly scheduled exam, fetal distress was diagnosed. Fetal monitoring at the hospital showed a fetal heart rate deceleration that led to an emergency c-section.
The infant did not have a detectable pulse until 16 minutes after birth. It was later determined that the mother had a fetal-maternal hemorrhage, leading to the loss of 75% of the infant’s blood. The child has cerebral palsy, cortical blindness, and spastic quadriplegia.
In suing, the woman claimed proper treatment would have avoided the brain damage. The defense claimed the brain damage occurred before her last clinic visit.
- The jury awarded the plaintiff $17 million, finding 80% liability with the hospital and 20% with the physicians.