Massachusetts Couple Secures $4.25 Million Birth Injury Settlement

Jenn Fusion | December 13th, 2013 | Posted in Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit News, Recent Settlements

birth injury settlementA couple from Auburn, Massachusetts secured a $4.25 million birth injury settlement for their daughter’s brain damage. The plaintiffs alleged that Dr. Robert Berry and two other physicians at the UMass Medical Center were responsible for mishandling their baby’s delivery, including failing to immediately agree to the mother’s demand for a Cesarean section.

As a result, their daughter suffered from decreased oxygen, which caused seizures and brain damage. The girl is now 4 years old and is unable to walk or talk. The brain damage settlement occurred before the case could go before a trial and is one of the largest in Massachusetts this year, said the family’s lawyer. The money will go toward paying for continued medical therapies. This case sheds light on a common reason for filing medical malpractice lawsuits.

When are emergency C-sections medically necessary?

In America, 1 in 3 babies are born by C-section. There are many reasons why a doctor may recommend surgical, rather than vaginal, birth. Twins or multiples are almost always delivered by Cesarean to minimize risks associated with this type of labor. Other reasons include:

  • Labor that fails to progress, with the cervix unable to dilate wide enough to allow safe passage for the baby
  • Abnormal heart or respiratory rate experienced by the fetus due or problems with the umbilical cord positioning
  • Problems with the placenta, which removes waste and provides nourishment to the fetus
  • A baby that is positioned feet-first in breech position
  • A baby that is too large (9-10 pounds) to fit through the birth canal safely
  • Maternal infection that could be passed to the baby and cannot be treated with IV antibiotics, like HIV or herpes
  • Maternal conditions like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia (high blood pressure and blood protein)

Sometimes babies in breech position can be manipulated through massage by an experienced health care provider to rotate head-first. Yet, a Cesarean may still be prudent for the other conditions mentioned. Mothers have the right to ask for a C-section birth if the labor is not progressing as expected.

Risks associated with delayed C-section births

Intrapartum fetal asphyxia is the biggest concern of delayed C-sections. Time is of the essence if a fetus is in respiratory distress. Only about 2% of babies suffer from lack of oxygen during birth, but a 2001 assessment by Canadian researchers found that continuous fetal heart rate monitoring, fetal blood gas measurements and acid-base assessments during first and second stage labor could  prevent the progression of mild asphyxia to moderate or severe asphyxia.

C-section mistakes and brain damage

The American Association For Justice states that clinicians should expect that emergency surgical intervention may be necessary when maternal or fetal conditions compromise blood and oxygen delivery to the fetus. The response must be swift and coordinated.

Signs that an immediate C-section is imminent include:

  • A fetal heart rate that drops down to 60 beats or less per minute
  • Excessive vaginal bleeding
  • Uterine rupture or excessive activity
  • Amniotic fluid embolism
  • Umbilical cord prolapse
  • Severe preeclampsia
  • Infection

Given any of these signs, hospitals should be able to begin a Cesarean delivery within 30 minutes, according to the “2007 Guidelines for Perinatal Care” published by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

However, hospitals must act much quicker when the underlying problem is lack of oxygen and blood flow to the fetus. Researcher William Windle published some of the earliest experiments on monkey in 1968, finding that impaired blood and oxygen flow of eight to 10 minutes led to neurological impairment, and asphyxia lasting more than 12 minutes caused irreversible brain damage. The research of Ronald Meyers confirmed these finding and also demonstrated that total asphyxia lasting more than 20 minutes led to death.

Hospitals wishing to avoid settlements like the one in Massachusetts should have a trained rapid response team experienced in conducting decision-to-incision drills. Nurses must be trained to detect signs of fetal distress. There must always be an attending physician and backup physician prepared to jump in during an emergency. Regular reviews of fetal compromise symptoms and acceptable procedures should be reviewed no less than annually. These golden standards of care can facilitate better communication and quicker coordination, says the American Association For Justice, and hopefully prevent the need for more large birth injury settlement payouts.

Birth injury malpractice attorneys

The law offices of Balkin & Eisbrouch can help victims of medical malpractice secure the compensation to which they may be entitled. Damages recovered in a brain damage settlement or jury verdict can relieve parents of financial stress when it comes to long-term care for a special needs child. For a free legal review of your case, please call us today.

  1. Worchester Telegram & Gazette - UMass settles malpractice suit for $4.25M

  2. National Institutes of Health – When Is A Cesarean Birth Necessary & What Are The Risks?

  3. American Journal of Obstetrical Gynecology (Mar. 2001) – The Prediction & Prevention of Intrapartum Fetal Asphyxia In Term Pregnancies

  4. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology – The Relationship of Asphyxia In The Mature Fetus To Long-Term Neurologic Function

  5. American Association For Justice – When Every Minute Counts