Medical Verdicts

Baby severely handicapped after premature labor: $42.9M verdict

Notable judgments and settlements


A 27-year-old mother had a normal prenatal ultrasonography
(US) result in March 2007. In July, she went to the emergency department (ED) with pelvic pressure. A maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) specialist noted that the patient’s cervix had shortened to 1.3 cm. US showed that excessive amniotic fluid was causing uterine distention. The patient was monitored by an on-call ObGyn for 3.5 hours before being discharged home on pelvic and modified bed rest.

Two days later, the mother reported frequent contractions to her ObGyn. The baby was born the next day by emergency cesarean delivery at 25 weeks’ gestation. The newborn had seizures and a brain hemorrhage. The child has mental disabilities, blindness, spastic quadriparesis, cerebral palsy, gastroesophageal reflux, and complex feeding disorder.

PARENTS’ CLAIM The on-call ObGyn did not give the patient specific instructions for pelvic and bed rest upon discharge. The MFM specialist and on-call ObGyn failed to admit the patient to the hospital, and failed to administer intravenous steroids (betamethasone) to protect the fetal brain and induce respiratory development.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE There was no indication during the MFM specialist’s examination that delivery was imminent. The use of betamethasone would not have prevented or inhibited premature labor. The infant’s problems were due to prematurity and low birth weight.

VERDICT A $42.9 million Pennsylvania verdict was returned against the MFM specialist; the on-call ObGyn and hospital were vindicated.

When a 68-year-old woman reported vaginal spotting
to her gynecologist (Dr. A) in March 2006, the results of an endometrial biopsy were negative. She saw another gynecologist (Dr. B) for a second opinion when bleeding continued. After dilation and curettage, grade 1B endometrial cancer was identified. The patient underwent a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. She received a diagnosis of metastatic cancer of the pelvis and pelvic and para-aortic lymph nodes 18 months later. After additional surgery, the patient died in March 2008.

ESTATE’S CLAIM Dr. A was negligent in failing to diagnose the cancer in March 2006. Dr. B should have performed pelvic lymphadenectomy at hysterectomy; a lymphadenectomy would have accurately staged metastatic cancer.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE Care and treatment were appropriate. Performing a lymphadenectomy would have exposed the patient to a significant risk of morbidity.

VERDICT A $750,000 California verdict was reduced to $250,000 under the state cap.

Shoulder dystocia was encountered
when a 38-year-old woman gave birth. The child later received a diagnosis of Erb’s palsy, and has had several operations. At trial, the child had loss of function of the affected arm and wore a brace.

PARENTS’ CLAIM A vaginal delivery should not have been performed because the mother had gestational diabetes and the baby weighed 8 lb 8 oz at birth. Cesarean delivery was never offered.

DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE Labor appeared normal. Proper delivery techniques were used when shoulder dystocia was encountered.

VERDICT A $12.9 million Michigan verdict was reduced to $4 million under the state cap.

Related articles:
You are the second responder to a shoulder dystocia emergency. What do you do first? Robert L. Barbieri, MD (Editorial; May 2013)
STOP all activities that may lead to further shoulder impaction when you suspect possible shoulder dystocia
Ronald T. Burkman, MD (Stop/Start; March 2013)
The natural history of obstetric brachial plexus injury
Robert L. Barbieri, MD (Editorial, February 2013)

During anesthesia administration before cesarean delivery,
a mother’s spinal cord was injured, resulting in irritation of multiple nerve roots. She has chronic nerve pain syndrome.

PATIENT’S CLAIM The anesthesiologist was negligent in how he administered the spinal block.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE There was no negligence. The injury is a known complication of the procedure.

VERDICT An Indiana defense verdict was returned.

A 35-year-old woman underwent laparoscopic cystectomy
on her left ovary performed by her gynecologist. During the procedure, the patient’s aorta was punctured, and she lost more than half her blood volume. After immediate surgery to repair the aorta, she was hospitalized for 5 days.

PATIENT’S CLAIM The injury was due to improper insertion of the laparoscopic instruments; the trocars were improperly angled and too forcefully inserted. The injury was a known risk of the procedure for obese patients, but she is not obese. She has a residual scar and is at increased risk of developing adhesions.

PHYSICIAN’S DEFENSE The instruments were properly inserted. The injury is a known risk of the procedure.

VERDICT A $4 million New York verdict was returned.

At 40 6/7 weeks’ gestation,
a mother went to the ED after her membranes spontaneously ruptured. The child was delivered by vacuum extraction 30 hours later.

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