Failure to Diagnose Fetal Distress

Filed under Birth Injury, Stillbirth

The Park Case

The mother had a history of a successful twin birth but multiple miscarriages both before and after her twins. She was diagnosed with an incompetent cervix and was told that any future pregnancy would require close monitoring due to her high risk of having another miscarriage. In this case, the mother experienced symptoms of pre-term labor at 17 weeks. From 17 weeks to 28 weeks, she was prescribed tocolytic medications to hold off labor.

Weekly ultrasounds showed a healthy, viable fetus. The mother went to the hospital at 28 weeks when she suspected decreased fetal movements. A covering OB/GYN performed a fetal non-stress test; interpreted the test as showing that the fetus was doing well, and recommended discharge. The mother was concerned and requested that she be admitted to the labor suite overnight for constant electronic monitoring. At about 9:00am the mother noticed that the monitor was recording a very low fetal heart rate. In spite of the nurses’ reassurances, the heart rate dropped still further.

An emergency cesarean section was performed but the baby was born critical and only lived a short time. An investigation revealed: (1) The fetal strip read by the physician the evening before had been misinterpreted and instead showed that the fetus was in distress; (2) The nurses had missed an extended period during the night when the fetal strip showed fetal distress and was flat-lined for over an hour. Plaintiffs’ experts would have testified that the fetus was healthy and would have had a normal life and life expectancy if a cesarean section had been performed when the mother first reported to the hospital for testing the evening before.

The case was settled following an extended pre-trial mediation. The unusually high (for a newborn death case) settlement amount, was based, in part that both parents were well educated and the father was a high-ranking corporate executive. These are factors which an expert may take into account in projecting what a deceased child might have earned over his lifetime.

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Publisher: Harry S. Cohen and Associates, P.C.