The Chrissler Case
In this case, we represented a married couple who lost their baby due an obstetrician’s negligence in failing to recognize an emergent situation presented by a non-reassuring non-stress test.
Stacy Chrissler, a corporate lawyer, and her husband, Bill Chrissler, an engineer, were expecting their first child. For her prenatal care, Stacy was being followed by an obstetrical practice in Monroeville. The due date was May 9th.
Over one week past her due date, on May 19th, Stacy had an appointment with her obstetricians’ office (she was scheduled for induction on May 21st). This time, she was seen by a different obstetrician who did not see her up to that point. This obstetrician, who became the Defendant in the case, ordered a non-stress test. A non-stress test is a test done on pregnant women to determine the health of the baby; they typically last 20-minutes. Here, the non-stress test was performed in the office by an assistant and lasted for approximately one hour. The Defendant was not present during the test and only returned after an hour of monitoring to see the results.
The test results revealed a non-reassuring pattern with variable late decelerations. This can be a very ominous sign if emergent steps aren’t taken. Tragically for the Chrisslers, no emergent steps were taken. Instead, the Defendant misinterpreted the test results, failed to recognize the emergent nature of the situation, and causally directed her patient to have follow-up testing done later in the day at a hospital in Pittsburgh (e.g. she told Stacy that she could go home first to grab a bag, she told Stacy to go to the normal entrance and wait to be seen and not to go to the emergency room, etc.). As a result, Stacy stopped at her house as she was told she could do, went to the hospital, and waited 45-minutes to be seen. Tragically, by then, the baby was dead. Even worse, the baby could have been delivered within minutes if Stacy was taken or ordered to go to Forbes Regional Hospital which was less than 2 miles away and had an obstetrical unit.
The Defendant, her lawyer, and their experts were stuck between a rock and a hard place trying to defend the negligence that occurred. They knew that the non-stress test was bad and required immediate treatment, but they also knew that the Defendant told Stacy that she could go home first and also knew that the Defendant never called the hospital in Pittsburgh to make sure that Stacy was treated right away. Therefore, during her deposition, the Defendant, trying to walk a fine line between the test results and her actions, testified that the situation was “urgent but not emergent.” When pressed, the Defendant, no matter how ridiculous it sounded, just kept testifying that “urgent” action was needed, but not “emergent” action.
We secured opinions from various experts commenting on the Defendant’s negligence and the harm that resulted. These experts included an obstetrician, a maternal fetal medicine specialist (an obstetrician who treats high risk patients), a neurologist, a placental pathologist, and a forensic economist. The medical experts agreed that medical rules state that a non-stress test like Stacy’s in this case requires emergency action and an emergency C-section. They also agreed that the baby died from something that never would have happened had the rules been followed and had her mother been treated on an emergency basis. The choice to not treat this emergency situation as an emergency was negligent.
In turn, as is typical in medical malpractice cases, the obstetrician’s lawyer was able to secure an opinion from an obstetrical “expert” – the Vice Chairman of large local hospital and Assistant Professor – that defended the obstetrician’s actions. This doctor authored an expert report wherein he opined that the Defendant did not breach the standard of care. His opinion, conforming to the Defendant’s deposition testimony, was that although the non-stress test results were bad and required immediate follow-up, the results were not so bad that “emergent” action was needed.
Also, as is the backup defense in every stillborn or birth injury case, the Defendant’s lawyer hired various medical experts to provide opinions (i.e. theories) that “even if the Defendant was negligent, it did not matter because …”. Here, these “experts” opined that the baby, even if delivered earlier, would have either still been born dead or born with a severe neurologic brain injury caused by some infection in the uterus (notably, these “opinions” were contrary to the medical examiner’s autopsy report).
After years of litigation, on the morning of jury selection, this case settled for a substantial sum.