Recent Birth injury verdicts. Coughlin, Rainboth, Murphy and Lown

In this medical malpractice case, the
32-year-old decedent suffered from
pregnancy-associated cardiomyopathy
that her ob-gyn failed to diagnose even
though she knew her patient was
experiencing tachycardia, pitting edema in
her ankles, coughing, shortness of breath
and rapid weight gain. She then allegedly
recommended administration of
Labetalol, a powerful antihypertensive
drug, to the pregnant patient, which
caused the decedent’s blood pressure, as
well as the fetal heart rate, to plummet.
The decedent’s child was saved by an
emergency caesarean section, but the
decedent died of heart failure. The ob-gyn
contended that an emergency room
doctor was responsible for her patient
receiving Labetalol because he actually
wrote the order.
The decedent in this medical
malpractice case was a 32-year-old teacher
who suffered a lingering cough when she
was eight months pregnant with her
second child. She visited the school nurse,
who, after noticing that the teacher’s
ankles were swollen with pitting edema,
told the pregnant woman to contact her
ob-gyn. The decedent saw her doctor that
afternoon, complaining of a cough and
edema in her ankles. The doctor
performed a pelvic exam and checked her
patient’s blood pressure, but did not take
her pulse or listen to her lungs. The
doctor’s office recorded, in the patient’s
chart, that the mother-to-be had gained
ten pounds in one week. After examining
her, the doctor sent her patient home
with instructions to take Robitussin to
relieve her cough. The next day the
decedent felt worse, and again went to the
school nurse, who found that the
pregnant woman’s pulse was an
abnormally high 142 beats/minute and
that her breathing was labored. The
alarmed nurse called the ob-gyn, who,
after initially resisting the nurse’s
insistence that the decedent was seriously
ill, instructed the patient to go to the
hospital. At the emergency room, the
decedent was given an EKG and chest
X-ray which showed that she was
suffering from congestive heart failure
and tachycardia. Her blood pressure was
normal. When the E.R. physician called
the ob-gyn for instructions on what
medication to administer to the patient,
the ob-gyn told him that he could give her
Labetalol, a powerful antihypertensive
drug which causes a rapid drop in blood
pressure. The decedent’s blood pressure
quickly plummeted, as did the fetal heart
rate. A caesarian section was performed
to save the child, but the decedent went
into cardiopulmonary arrest. She was
resuscitated and sent by MedFlight to a
hospital in Boston where she died.
The decedent’s fetal-maternal medical
expert, Dr. James Balducci, testified that
the mother-to-be suffered from
pregnancy-associated cardiomyopathy
which sometimes occurs during
pregnancy. He related that he had seen
twenty-five such cases, none of which
resulted in death. He testified that the
symptoms of pregnancy-associated
cardiomyopathy are tachycardia, edema,
coughing or wheezing, shortness of
breath, and fatigue, and that the ob-gyn
should have diagnosed the decedent’s
condition when the school nurse told her
of the patient’s symptoms. He related that
Labetalol should never be given for
pregnancy-associated cardiomyopathy
because it causes an unwanted rapid
decrease in the patient’s blood pressure.
The ob-gyn argued that she was not
responsible for the decedent’s death
because she did not have privileges at the
hospital and did not order Labetalol. She
claimed that she did not recommend the
administration of Labetalol by the E.R.
physician; she claimed that she and the
E.R. doctor discussed hypothetically what
medications might be safely given to a
pregnant patient.
After an eight day trial, the jury
deliberated for five hours and returned a
plaintiff’s verdict for $1,990,000, which,
together with prejudgment interest,
amounts to $2,900,000.

SOURCE: OB/GYN Liability Alert