Settlement in a Case Involving a Woman left in a Vegetative State after the C-Section Birth of her Child

A young couple was having their first baby and the pregnancy had proceeded normally.  However, the obstetrician believed that the baby might to too large to deliver vaginally and decided to do a cesarean section instead.

Before the c-section began, the anesthesiologist performed a spinal anesthesia.  This type of anesthesia allows the mother to be awake during the surgical procedure of removing her baby from the womb.  The anesthesiologist has to be aware, however, of any signs or symptoms that the spinal anesthesia is anesthetizing the patient above the lumbar area of her spine, as the patient can lose the ability to breathe on her own if that occurs. Should the level of anesthesia go above the lumbar area of the patient’s spine, the anesthesiologist has to be prepared to immediately intubate the patient and perform general anesthesia instead.

In this case, the plaintiff’s investigation showed that the anesthesiologist did monitor the mother’s condition. Her last words were “I can’t breathe.”  Instead of intubating her and performing general anesthesia, the anesthesiologist simply placed an oxygen mask over the woman’s face as if she could still breathe on her own. Meanwhile, the obstetrician went about performing the c-section.

The obstetrician became concerned initially when he began to see that the woman’s blood was not proper color, suggesting that she was not receiving a sufficient amount of oxygen.  When he delivered the baby he saw that the baby was blue and in distress. He immediately demanded that the anesthesiologist intubate and resuscitate the woman and put her on ventilation.  By that time it was too late, and the woman remained in a permanent vegetative state after recovering from the operation.

Plaintiff’s investigation revealed that the anesthesiologist was not a member of the hospital staff at the time of the surgery as is required by the hospital bylaws.  Rather, the anesthesiologist had only applied to become a member of the staff.  The plaintiff’s investigation showed that the anesthesiologist’s relative, who was head of the anesthesiology department at the time, had begun the process of reviewing the application but had not completed the process more than six months after the initial application had been submitted. Under the medical staff rules, a physician applying for staff privileges can only have temporary privileges to practice for 6 months.  In this case, the anesthesiologist’s temporary privileges had expired without apparent notice by the hospital, months before the surgery in question.

Plaintiff’s investigation also showed that this incident was not the only one involving this anesthesiologist.  At another hospital where the anesthesiologist was on staff, this anesthesiologist had been involved in a surgery where the surgeon became concerned about whether the patient was being properly oxygenated.  More than once did the surgeon ask about whether the patient was being properly oxygenated.  Finally, the surgeon demanded the patient be resuscitated.  The anesthesiologist’s conduct in that instance, which occurred before the c-section case, was also a subject of a lawsuit.

Plaintiff settled this case with the hospital and health professionals during a pretrial for $11,821.960.  At the time of the settlement, it was among the highest settlements or verdicts in Illinois for a medical malpractice case involving anesthesia, according to the Cook County Jury Verdict Reporter at the time.  There had only been two other cases with higher verdicts.