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When Negligence Causes Fetal Brain Injury: An Example of Obstetrical Malpractice


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4/13/2011
Jeffrey H. Dover
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There are many problems that can stem from malpractice during obstetrical management. In serious cases, severe injuries can be sustained by the mother or the fetus. In this example of an obstetrical malpractice case, significant brain injury to a fetus resulted from negligence on behalf of a hospital resident. The specific category of malpractice this scenario falls under is the "failure to recognize fetal distress and timely intervention."

In this case, the plaintiff mother was pregnant with her first child and was more than a week past her due date when she was admitted to have her labor induced. On her first night at the hospital, her attending physician left for the night. The fetus' heart tones were not abnormal, and the physician signed the care of the mother over to a resident for the night.

Later that night, the mother began to develop a fever and it was observed that the baby's heart rate became accelerated. Late decelerations of the fetus' heartbeat were observed by the time early morning came, and began following each and every contraction. Despite this being a sign of fetal distress, neither the resident nor the attending physician notified or consulted with any attending physicians in the hospital at the time.

As the mother began to go into labor, the attending physician was notified that the delivery was imminent and came to the hospital. After the delivery, the baby began experiencing seizures. Computed tomographic (CT) scans were taken of the child and revealed diffuse brain injury consistent with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

After the child was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia, the mother filed suit against the resident and the hospital staff alleging:

  • the failure to recognize fetal distress
  • the failure to notify the attending physician
  • the failure to notify the on-call attending obstetrician
  • the failure to immediately intervene with a caesarean section delivery

 

The injuries to the fetus could have successfully been avoided had the resident in charge of the pregnant patient's care performed the above responsibilities. Though the hospital denied liability, the defense could not argue with the injuries to the baby. Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement prior to the trial.


Category: Medical Malpractice


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