Medical Verdicts

Postpartum high blood pressure missed, mother suffers brain damage … and more



Postpartum high BP; mother suffers brain damage

HOSPITALIZED TWICE FOR HYPERTENSION in the month before her child was born, a 41-year-old woman gave birth to a healthy baby by cesarean delivery. The mother was discharged 2 days later with a blood pressure (BP) of 130/90 mm Hg.

Three days later, she went to her ObGyn’s office because she was not feeling well and had extreme swelling. Her BP, taken twice by a nurse, read 170/88 mm Hg, and 168/90 mm Hg, but she was not examined by the ObGyn.

That evening, the patient had difficulty breathing and was taken to the emergency department (ED), where she was intubated. She went into cardiac arrest and suffered permanent brain damage after being without a pulse for 15 minutes. She was in a coma for 45 days. She is unable to walk without assistance, is legally blind, and her hands are so contorted that she cannot feed herself. She suffers from short-term memory loss and has difficulty speaking.

PATIENT’S CLAIM The ObGyn should have examined her when she was at the office. Her hypertension would have been properly treated and injuries avoided. She had classic signs of postpartum cardiomyopathy.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE The patient had not come to the office because she was feeling ill, but to show off her baby and have her BP checked. If he had been advised of the BP readings, he would have examined her.

VERDICT A $5 million Georgia verdict was returned.

Cervical biopsy results improperly reported

A 44-YEAR-OLD WOMAN UNDERWENT a cervical biopsy in July 2007 performed by a pathologist. A few days later, the pathologist contacted the patient and reported that the biopsy revealed invasive cervical cancer that required immediate surgery. Several procedures were performed without any cancer ever being found.

A second opinion was sought, and it was determined that the cancer diagnosis was incorrect; another patient’s pathology had been reported as the patient’s.

PATIENT’S CLAIM The pathologist and hospital were negligent in reporting incorrect results of the cervical biopsy, which resulted in the patient’s physical and emotional injuries, including unnecessary surgical procedures and depression and anxiety.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The defendants did not oppose the patient’s motion for summary judgment on liability; the issue of damages was contested.

VERDICT The patient received summary judgment on liability. She then discontinued claims against the pathologist, and the matter proceeded on damages against the hospital. A $46,000 New York verdict was returned. Stipulated medical expenses were added to the verdict for a total recovery of $60,979.

Brachial plexus injury: child has significant functional disability

AT 38 6/7 WEEKS’ GESTATION, a 23-year-old woman went to the ED with contractions. She had pregestational diabetes mellitus. Her admitting glucose level was 143 mg/dL, and she had gained 25 lb during pregnancy. Her fundal height was 40 cm, and estimated fetal weight was 4000 g (8 lb 13 oz). A pelvic examination determined that she was 3 to 4 cm dilated, 100% effaced, and at minus-1 station. She was given oxytocin to aid labor. The ObGyn noted that overall fetal heart-rate tracings were reassuring, and that a pediatrician would be present for delivery due to suspected macrosomia. Shoulder dystocia occurred during delivery, but it was resolved in 40 seconds. The mother sustained a second-degree perineal laceration.

At birth, the baby’s left arm was limp. Apgar scores were 5 and 9 at 1 and 5 minutes, respectively. Her birth weight was 10 lb 2 oz. A brachial plexus injury was diagnosed, and she underwent surgery in October 2008. Despite successful nerve grafts at C5 and C6, the child has significant functional disability in the left arm.

PARENTS’ CLAIM A cesarean delivery should have been scheduled when a macrosomic fetus was suspected.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE The case was settled during trial.

VERDICT A $1,475,000 Maryland settlement was reached.

Breech position and umbilical cord prolapse: Was everything done that could be done?

DURING A MOTHER’S 38-WEEK PRENATAL VISIT, ultrasonography showed the baby was in breech position. The midwife offered two options: to schedule an external cephalic version procedure at 38 weeks or a cesarean delivery at 39 weeks. The parents agreed to schedule a cesarean delivery for 8 days later. The day before the scheduled birth, the mother awoke to find the umbilical cord between her legs. An emergency cesarean delivery was performed. The newborn required resuscitation and mechanical ventilation and suffered permanent brain damage attributed to hypoxia from umbilical cord prolapse.

PARENTS’ CLAIM The midwife’s negligence caused the baby’s injuries. Breech presentation put the pregnancy at high-risk. She did not have a physician examine the patient before scheduling a cesarean delivery and did not attempt to rotate the child back to a head-first position. She did not warn the parents about the risks of breech presentation and umbilical cord prolapse.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The choices given the parents were reasonable. Scheduling a cesarean delivery at 39 weeks was proper. A prolapsed cord is not predictable or preventable.

VERDICT A $12.6 million Pennsylvania verdict was returned against the midwife and the hospital; a confidential high/low agreement was reached.

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