Over the past twenty years, our firm has handled dozens of cases for families who have had a baby sustain a brain injury due to medical malpractice. Many of these cases have involved infants that have been injured during delivery in the hospital. Recently, our firm resolved a complex birth injury case for a Kentucky family whose child was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia and cerebral palsy after sustaining an anoxic brain injury during delivery at a Kentucky hospital.
The family contacted us when their little boy was almost three years old. They were becoming overwhelmed by his daily needs, therapies, and the increasing cost of his medical care. They had spent the last three years scraping together every dollar they could and asking for help from friends and family to try to manage his life as well as their own. Due to these difficult circumstances, their older daughter’s needs and activities had taken a back seat, and their marriage was under a considerable strain. When they contacted us for help, they were near the breaking point. Unfortunately, when it comes to brain injury lawsuits, it is a scenario we are very familiar with.
Initial Meeting With the Family
When our team first met with the family at their home, we spent several hours listening to their concerns and needs. We then explained that we would be working for the next few months to gather all of the information needed to investigate the lawsuit. Our nurse helped the family organize their medical providers and medications and did a top-down listing of each and every doctor and hospital visit, including MRI and CT imaging, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, genetic testing, orthopedic consults, neurologist consults, pulmonologist consults, and pediatricians. While this was a time-consuming process, it was necessary to ensure that we didn’t miss anything.
We then set-up a meeting with our certified life care planner to help the family better organize visits and begin to develop a comprehensive listing of their son’s current and future medical needs and expenses. This life care plan is a document we have developed for catastrophic brain injury cases to help juries fully understand our clients’ needs as well as the total costs associated with their care.
Investigation and Medical Record Review
In the months that followed, we came to know our clients very well and spoke with them nearly every week to see how things were going. During this time, our team was busy gathering medical records via Freedom of Information Act requests and our own private investigators. Once the initial frenzy of information gathering calmed down, we got to work organizing them for review in-house at our firm and by our team of experts to determine if anyone—the labor and delivery nurses at the hospital, the doctor (OBYN /obstetrician), and/or neonatologist—was negligent in their care of our client.
This organization process and medical record review can take several weeks to complete due to the complexity of birth trauma cases. Fortunately, our firm has a vast network of world-renowned experts in all specialties associated with negligent delivery cases. After meeting with our experts, we were convinced that, in this case, both the hospital nurses and the physician had committed medical malpractice.
Events That Led Up to the Baby’s Birth
Our client had a typical, normal pregnancy. This was her second child, and she knew how to take care of herself and her baby. She never missed her prenatal appointments and did exactly what her doctor told her to do. At 39 ½ weeks, she was at home when she started having regular contractions. As a second-time mom, she knew she was going to have the baby very soon. It was early afternoon, so she called her husband at work. He picked up their daughter from school and dropped her off at her grandparents’ house. He then headed home, picked up his wife, and drove her to the hospital. His wife had already called the OB to tell her that she was having contractions and that they were on their way to the hospital.
The OB was performing a C-section at another hospital downtown, but her office said that she would be by to check on our client later and that another OB from their group would be at the hospital to see our client when she arrived.
When our client arrived at the hospital, she was triaged, taken to the labor and delivery unit, and placed on a fetal heart monitor. The baby looked healthy with reassuring signs on the fetal heart monitor. Our client’s contractions were increasing, and the nurse told her that she would probably be delivering her baby within the hour. She and her husband were excited and called to tell her parents and daughter. Then they waited.
Close to an hour passed before a nurse came back in to see them. The nurse stated that our client’s contractions had leveled off, so she gave her Pitocin to speed things up. She also casually mentioned that they were having trouble picking up the baby’s heart rate on the monitor, despite their efforts to adjust it when they were in our client’s room. The nurse said it was nothing to worry about and that they could place a scalp electrode if they couldn’t get the heart rate back on the monitor. She then left the room.
Our clients then waited again. After nearly 40 minutes, a different nurse showed up and again adjusted the monitor. Like the previous nurse, she said they might need to place a scalp electrode or get a new fetal heart monitor lead in order to obtain a better reading. She also mentioned that they were now having difficulty monitoring her uterine contractions. She then left the room.
Emergency C-Section Did Not Prevent a Severe Brain Injury
Our clients waited yet again. Over 30 minutes passed before anyone from the hospital came into their room. This time, the same nurse returned and placed a new fetal heart monitor on our client. According to our client, her face went pale as soon as she turned it on. The readings on the fetal heart monitor showed clearly showed that the fetus was in distress, experiencing what our experts described as a non-reassuring baseline heart rate along with late decelerations. This meant the fetus was not getting enough oxygen to sustain itself and needed to be delivered immediately to try and prevent further damage.
The baby was delivered via emergency C-section within 20 minutes, but the damage was already apparent. The baby’s Apgar scores were 1,2, and 4. He was immediately taken to the NICU, where he experienced several seizures over the next several days. Later MRIs would show hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. He had a severe brain injury and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. The family was devastated after hearing the diagnosis and overwhelmed by the amount of information they were receiving about his needs and prognosis.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Filed Against the Doctor and Hospital
After speaking with our experts, we drafted the complaint and filed the medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital and doctor. Both denied any liability, and so the litigation began. We spent the next several months taking depositions of witnesses, including the nurses and doctor directly involved in our client’s care. Under heavy questioning, they admitted that they should have acted much sooner to establish a reading on the fetal heart monitor and that it was below the normal standard of care to allow the fetus to go unmonitored for over an hour. They also admitted that prior to the monitoring being lost, the fetal heart rate monitor strips were reassuring—indicating that the baby was healthy.
Expert Witnesses Outlined the Medical Malpractice Case
Still, the hospital and doctor’s insurance company refused to resolve the claim, so we moved on to the next phase of litigation, the expert witnesses. We had experts in the fields of obstetrics, nursing labor and delivery, pediatric neuroradiology, pediatrics, and pediatric neurology. These experts explained the importance of fetal heart monitoring. Further, they explained that when fetal monitoring could not be established, our client's son should have been delivered to prevent injury. They made it clear that the nurses were negligent when they failed to act quickly to re-establish fetal monitoring and that the doctor was negligent by failing to act in a timely manner despite being told by the labor and delivery nurses that monitoring was lost.
Our experts went on to describe how the Pitocin they gave our client caused uterine hyperstimulation, leading to a dangerous situation where her baby was not receiving adequate oxygen. The loss of oxygen caused portions of the baby’s brain to die, which lead to both motor-skill and cognitive impairment.
Our life care planner expert outlined in painstaking detail all of the medical care and treatment the child would require for the rest of his life.
Our Legal Team Fought Hard Against Misleading Defense Testimony and Won!
We then took the depositions of the defense experts. After their main obstetric and nursing experts fell apart on cross-examination, the defense listed a geneticist as a last-minute expert to testify that all of our client’s medical conditions were the result of an undiagnosed genetic disorder. It was a desperate, disingenuous move. We used all of our resources to gather medical articles and background information on this expert to demonstrate that she was nothing more than a hired gun for the defense and that her testimony wasn’t based on any real science. After a very contentious examination, we were able to pick apart their expert’s testimony and expose them for what they were.
The case resolved a month later just prior to trial. As a result of the settlement, we were able to secure enough money to pay for the little boy’s life care plan and compensate him for his pain and suffering. The family was able to move into a home that was modified to accommodate a wheelchair and the needs of their son. They purchased a van equipped with a ramp and were able to pay for the therapies needed to help their son lead the best life he can. Due to the size of the settlement, the hospital took measures to update and implement better policies and procedures on fetal heart monitoring and notification of physician services when monitoring is lost or compromised.
This was an extremely hard-fought case, but our clients needed our help, and we didn’t quit. If your child was injured by the negligent actions of a doctor or hospital during labor and delivery, we will fight just as hard for your family. Download a free copy of Family First: How to Get the Help You Need After a Birth Injury or contact our office today to learn more about your rights and legal options. The consultation is free and there is no obligation.