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    Legally Speaking: Tubal ligation failure results in wrongful pregnancy claim

     

    Urosepsis in early pregnancy results in death

    A 27-year-old Kentucky woman was pregnant with her second child in 2010. She received prenatal care from the obstetrician who had delivered her son a year earlier. She had pyelonephritis earlier in the pregnancy but it was otherwise uncomplicated until 19 weeks’ gestation, when she felt ill and complained of abdominal pain. She was taken to a hospital emergency room (ER). The nurses believed she was suffering a urinary tract infection and consulted with her obstetrician, who concurred with the diagnosis without seeing the patient. She was given antibiotic and pain medication before being discharged.

    The patient was worse the next day and was taken back to the hospital. Urosepsis was diagnosed and a surgeon took over her care and performed emergency surgery. The fetus died during the operation and the patient coded at the end of the procedure. She was resuscitated, but suffered significant brain damage and died 4 days later when life support was removed.

    In the lawsuit that followed, negligence was alleged against the obstetrician in failing to see the patient during the initial ER visit, given the woman’s history of pyelonephritis. The contention was that the patient should not have been discharged and that intravenous antibiotics would have allowed both mother and fetus to survive.

    The obstetrician claimed that there was no negligence and that admission at the time of the first ER visit was not warranted, based on the reports from the hospital nurses. He also claimed that the 19-week fetus was nonviable and made a motion for summary judgment to drop claims related to the fetus, which was denied.

    Related: Undiagnosed maternal infection or prematurity?

    The verdict

    Claims against the hospital resulted in a confidential settlement prior to trial. At trial the claims included those for the death of the mother and the fetus. The jury found the hospital 60% at fault and the obstetrician 40% at fault. A verdict awarding $7,440,000 was returned, although no damages for the fetus’ death were awarded. The net amount against the physician was $2,976,000.

    Dawn Collins, JD
    MS COLLINS is an attorney specializing in medical malpractice in Long Beach, California. She welcomes feedback on this column via ...

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