In a medical malpractice case decided on February 10, 2012 by the Maryland Court of Appeals (Maryland’s highest appellate court), the Court of Appeals (“Court”) upheld a Maryland medical malpractice jury verdict in the amount of $3.6 million in favor of the plaintiff as a result of the severe and permanent birth injuries sustained by a newborn during labor and delivery.
What makes this case even more interesting is that the defendant hospital was praised by all involved for the care it had provided to the pregnant woman in delaying the premature birth of her son for three weeks, which greatly increased his chance of survival. Unfortunately, the subsequent medical care provided to the pregnant woman by the hospital during labor and delivery was found by the medical malpractice jury to have fallen below the required standard of care, resulting in the fetus being without enough oxygen and causing his life-long disabilities.
The Facts Of This Case
The woman was 23-years-old when she became pregnant with her first child in March, 2002. Her expected due date was determined to be December 24, 2002. She received routine prenatal care at one hospital and then switched to another hospital (the defendant in her medical malpractice lawsuit).
She was 23 weeks pregnant when she was seen for her first appointment at the second hospital on August 30, 2002. She was determined at that time to have cervical shortening and was sent to Labor and Delivery for further evaluation, at which time a physical examination showed her cervix was prematurely dilated to 4 centimeters and 100% effaced (that is, it was shortened) and that her membranes were bulging.
She was admitted into the hospital to attempt to extend her pregnancy as long as possible in order to give her fetus the best possible chance of survival (the vast majority of babies born at 23 weeks die whereas babies born at 26 weeks in hospitals such as the one where the woman was admitted have a death rate of about 18% and two out of three of them have no significant deficits). The hospital’s successful efforts to extend the woman’s pregnancy by three weeks from 23 weeks to 26 week was critical to her baby’s survival.
What Happened Next?
On September 19, 2002, a sonogram found that the umbilical cord had prolapsed [a condition where the umbilical cord has descended into the cervix and beneath the fetus] and was within a few millimeters of the vagina, making her an “extreme risk” for PPROM [preterm, premature, rupture of membranes]. The specialist who performed the sonogram strongly worded in his report that he recommended continuous monitoring of the woman’s condition and that they be ready for a stat [within ten minutes] cesarean section “at all times” because the woman’s condition could deteriorate to PPROM at any time.
The situation was dangerous because the location of the umbilical cord within the cervix that was below the lowest part of the fetus’ body created a dangerous condition where the cord could be squeezed shut by labor contractions that would cut off the blood flow to the fetus.
That night, the woman had symptoms consistent with an acute cord prolapse that required the hospital to perform a stat (within 10 minutes) cesarean section, but there was a delay of 40 minutes in performing the cesarean section. There was also a claim that the cesarean section should have been performed some six hours earlier, when the woman showed signs of a serious infection in her uterus. In either case, the medical malpractice claim alleged that had the baby been delivered earlier, as required by the standard of care, the baby would not have suffered his severe deficits.
The baby was blue when he was born. He was not breathing and his body was flaccid with low and unstable blood pressure and reduced blood volume. The newborn had to be intubated, resuscitated, transfused twice, and given medications to raise and stabilize his blood pressure. He had to spend two months in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital.
The negligent delay in delivery caused the baby to suffer developmental delays, including not walking until he was two and a half years old and not using full sentences until he was four and a half years old, due to the lack of oxygen to his brain caused by the cord prolapse that would have been avoided had the baby been delivered earlier, as required by the standard of care.
If your baby suffered injuries during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, you and your baby may be entitled to compensation for the injuries, expenses, and losses if medical malpractice caused or contributed to the situation.
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