Dawn Collins, JD
A PENNSYLVANIA WOMAN went to the hospital with abdominal pain during her 36th week of pregnancy. No fetal heart tones were heard and after a nurse performed a sonogram, the woman was told that the baby had died in utero. She told her treating physician that she was still feeling movements and he performed an ultrasound (U/S). He then sought a radiology confirmation of the diagnosis of fetal demise. Seventy-five minutes later an U/S technician arrived and immediately identified a still-beating heart. A complete placental abruption was seen. The fetus was delivered and transferred to another hospital with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and survived with cerebral palsy.
The patient sued those involved with the delivery, claiming negligence in that the U/S equipment was old, the wrong type of transducer was used, and an U/S technician more familiar with using more advanced U/S equipment should have been available immediately.
The physician argued that he was certain that the fetal heart had stopped when he performed the U/S and that the heart had started again by the time the U/S technician found a heartbeat.
The jury in this case found no negligence on the part of the physician, but did find that the hospital was at fault for not providing up-to-date equipment and not having skilled personnel to perform an emergency U/S in a timely manner. The jury awarded a total of $78.5 million, which included $1.5 million in emotional distress for the mother, $10 million in pain and suffering for the child, $2 million in lost future earnings, and the rest in future medical expenses.
Complications after amniocentesis results in cerebral palsy
A VIRGINIA WOMAN was 33 weeks pregnant when she was found to have gestational diabetes. She was referred to an obstetrician who planned to induce labor 2 to 3 weeks early if the fetus grew too large, to reduce the risk of injury during delivery. An amniocentesis was done to check fetal lung maturity. A second obstetrician noted some abnormality of the fetal heart rate (FHR) following the procedure and directed the patient's family practitioner to induce labor and go ahead with delivery. The infant had seizures after delivery, was determined to have brain damage because of lack of oxygen, and had no kidney function. She has undergone 2 kidney transplants and has cerebral palsy. At time of trial she was aged 10 years and functioning at prekindergarten level.
In the lawsuit that followed the birth, the patient alleged that she was not fully informed of the risks and alternatives of the amniocentesis. She claimed that complications arose during the procedure and the physician failed to stop the amniocentesis and postpone the testing. She maintained that an immediate cesarean delivery should have been performed.
The defense denied any negligence, arguing that their care was an appropriate alternative plan to the actions the patient claimed should have been taken. A $9 million verdict was returned.