Medical Malpractice: Policy limit settlement for failure to halt premature labor (OB/GYN negligence)
When our pregnant client developed severe low back pain and nausea in the middle of the night, she went to the emergency room and was admitted to the labor and delivery unit. Urine testing showed the presence of some blood, and laboratory blood tests showed a slightly elevated white blood cell count. The patient’s OB/GYN physician was called; however, he gave telephone orders to the nursing staff before he examined his patient. For the next several hours, the defendant doctor continued to treat his patient by relying on reports from the nursing staff and giving telephone orders. Without examining the patient, and merely relying on nursing reports and laboratory results, the OB/GYN doctor diagnosed our client with a kidney infection and prescribed antibiotics. In the meantime, nursing staff documented contractions in the medical chart consistent with premature labor.
Finally, nine hours after our client’s symptoms started, the defendant doctor came to the hospital to examine his patient. In spite of fetal heart monitoring strips documenting uterine contractions the doctor failed to consider the pregnant patient could be having premature labor and didn’t order any medications to halt the progression of the labor. Worse yet, the doctor told the nurses they didn’t need to continue fetal heart monitoring. Shortly after the defendant doctor left the hospital our client’s water broke. Instead of coming back to the hospital to examine his patient, the OB/GYN gave a telephone order for an ultrasound to evaluate the baby’s condition. Several hours later when the ultrasound tech tried to scan our patient’s belly she couldn’t find the baby’s head on the ultrasound monitor. Upon further investigation the tech discovered the baby’s head had already “crowned.” Our patient’s baby was born three months prematurely and was rushed to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at another hospital. When our client was discharged the next day she was not diagnosed or treated for a kidney infection. After a month of fighting to survive our client’s baby died from complications due to premature birth.
The defendant doctor and his insurance company alleged nothing could have been done to stop our client’s labor, even if she had been properly diagnosed when she was first admitted to the hospital. They further alleged the baby had no chance of survival because of her extreme prematurity.
We proved the standard of care requires a presumption of premature labor in a pregnant patient with back pain and nausea until proven otherwise with specific testing, which was never done for our client. We also proved kidney infections are known to cause premature labor, even when labor hasn’t started; therefore, the standard of care requires a heightened awareness that preterm labor can develop, and continuous fetal heart and uterine contraction monitoring. Further, we proved Magnesium Sulfate should have been given to halt the progression of the labor, and steroid medication should have been given to protect the unborn baby’s lungs and increase the chances of survival.