A mother sued her obstetrician for medical malpractice regarding a birth injury to her baby during delivery at a Virginia hospital. Everything was normal throughout her labor. When the baby’s head emerged, the obstetrician observed a shoulder dystocia (due to a ‘turtle’ sign).
Fetal dystocia is abnormal fetal size or position resulting in difficult delivery. Diagnosis is by examination, ultrasonography, or response to augmentation of labor. Treatment is with physical maneuvers to reposition the fetus, operative vaginal delivery, or cesarean delivery. [Source: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/abnormalities-and-complications-of-labor-and-delivery/fetal-dystocia, retrieved 1/24/2019]
The obstetrician tried several maneuvers in an attempt to release the baby’s impacted shoulder. When these were inadequate, the obstetrician used traction on the baby’s head multiple times trying to release the impaction. This was admitted by the obstetrician. The doctor tried another round of maneuvers to release the impacted shoulder. This was successful and resulted in the release of the impacted shoulder. The doctor then delivered the baby.
The plaintiff (the baby/mother) charged that the defendant obstetrician’s medical malpractice was in the use of excessive traction (well beyond “gentle traction”) when attempting to release the impacted shoulder. Further, plaintiffs charged that this caused a permanent injury to the baby’s right brachial plexus. It was the right shoulder that was impacted.
The brachial plexus is a network of intertwined nerves that control movement and sensation in the arm and hand. A traumatic brachial plexus injury involves sudden damage to these nerves, and may cause weakness, loss of feeling, or loss of movement in the shoulder, arm, or hand. The brachial plexus begins at the neck and crosses the upper chest to the armpit. Injury to this network of nerves often occurs when the arm is forcibly pulled or stretched. [https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases—conditions/brachial-plexus-injuries/, retrieved 1/24/2019]
During the trial, experts engaged by the plaintiff testified that during delivery, the obstetrician moved the baby’s head away from the impacted shoulder. This caused stress to the point of failure on the nerves of the brachial plexus. The defendant made no notes in his record of the delivery regarding the amount of traction or the direction of the traction applied during delivery. The doctor’s testimony during trial was that he used “gentle traction” (deposition) and “gentle axial traction (trial).
Plaintiff’s experts testified that merely gentle axial traction would not have caused the severe and permanent injuries to the baby. These experts also testified that only “excessive lateral traction” would have caused the extent of nerve damage observed during the baby’s first surgery. The defendant obstetrician testified at deposition that traction was used “in order to dislodge the anterior shoulder.” Plaintiff’s experts testified that this action is not permitted under the standards of care. The obstetrician claimed that the injury was due to “maternal forces of labor (or the mother’s pushing and contractions).
The injuries and loss of function suffered by the baby as a result of the birth injury during delivery were significant on the right side. The child’s right arm is essentially a “helper arm” without function and strength. Testimony from the baby’s surgeon, teacher, and parents presented a picture of lifelong disability.
The jury awarded $1,770,335 to the child and $550,000 to his mother for medical expenses until he reaches age 18. The total award in this medical malpractice case was $2,320,335.
If you or a loved one is harmed or disabled by a medical provider, you may be entitled to recover financial damages for your hurts and harms. Call Roanoke’s trusted medical malpractice attorney, Bettina Altizer, for legal representation. Bettina and her team at Altizer Law, P.C., will build your case and bring to it tenacity and fierceness. This team will work with you with their hallmark compassion and determination.