Hospital’s Failure to Comply with Regulation and Failure to have Blood Pressure Equipment for a Newborn Results in $10.9 Million Verdict

A young couple was having their first baby and the pregnancy had proceeded without complication. For the delivery, the couple went to the local hospital, which held a license as a Level II Maternity Center.  Because the mother’s “bag of waters” had been ruptured, the decision was made to insert an internal fetal monitor to monitor the status of the baby.

After the internal fetal monitor was inserted, blood was seen coming from the vagina.  However, because the leakage of blood in such circumstances usually comes from the mother, the healthcare professionals including the obstetrician did not give it any significance.  After a while, the monitor began showing that the baby was having problems with her heartbeat.  A decision was made to perform a cesarean section to remove the baby because of the signs that the baby was in distress.

During the cesarean birth, the baby was removed and handed off to the pediatrician. The baby required some resuscitative efforts and was taken to the Level II neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. Meanwhile, the obstetrician proceeded to remove the placenta.  Plaintiff’s investigation showed that during the course of removing the placenta, the obstetrician saw that the placenta had been around the cervical opening, preceding the baby’s head. He further noted that unlike a normal looking placenta, this placenta had what is referred to as a velamentous cord insertion.  In other words, instead of the base of blood vessels of the umbilical cord starting firmly in the placenta itself, the blood vessels started inside the membranes covering the placenta.  A velamentous insertion makes the blood vessels vulnerable to rupture, which would result in the loss of the baby’s blood, rather than the mother’s. Given that the velamentous insertion was covering the cervical opening in front of the baby’s head, the plaintiff showed at trial that the internal fetal monitor ruptured three of the blood vessels resulting in the baby losing blood while still in her mother’s uterus.

Plaintiff’s investigation showed that The Illinois Department of Health requires that hospitals have a space on the form concerning the baby’s birth for a description of the placenta.  The purpose of having a description of the placenta is to provide information to the pediatrician about any abnormalities that could be connected to problems with the baby.  This results in better treatment.  One of the abnormalities of the placenta would be a velamentous insertion preceding the baby’s head, which would explain the bleeding that occurred prior to birth.  Such bleeding could result in the baby having a reduced blood volume, impairing the baby’s condition before and after birth depending on the amount of blood the baby lost.

In this case, plaintiff’s investigation showed that the baby continued to struggle even after the initial efforts were made to resuscitate her.  She was given fluid but was not given any blood.  In addition, at no time after her birth did the healthcare professionals take the baby’s blood pressure at this Level II NICU because supposedly, the hospital did not have blood pressure equipment for use on babies.

When the baby’s condition did not improve after several hours, the pediatrician called a transfer team from the local Level III NICU to come and take the baby.  When the transfer team arrived, one of the first things they did was obtain a blood pressure.  This showed that the baby had a low blood volume and she had to be transfused with blood.  PLaintiff’s investigation showed that the baby had lost prior to birth an estimated that prior to her birth she had lost one third to one half of her blood volume as a result of the bleeding from the velamentous insertion of her umbilical cord, which likely ruptured when the internal fetal monitor was inserted.

Plaintiff’s negotiated with the obstetricians and the pediatrician. Plaintiff settled her claim against those doctors for their insurance policies. The case went to trial against the hospital alone.  The jury awarded the baby 10.9 million dollars in damages.  At the time of the verdict, it was the third highest verdict in Illinois for a birth injury and the second largest verdict in Cook County.