Faulty equipment blamed for improper diagnosis: $78M
AT 36 WEEKS’ GESTATION, a woman went to the emergency department (ED) with abdominal pain. After ultrasonography (US), a nurse told her the fetus had died in utero, but the mother continued to feel fetal movement. The ED physician requested a second US, but it took 75 minutes for a radiology technician to arrive. This US showed a beating fetal heart with placental abruption. After cesarean delivery, the child was found to have cerebral palsy.
PATIENT’S CLAIM The first US was performed by an inexperienced technician using outdated equipment and the wrong transducer. An experienced technician with newer equipment should have been immediately available. The ED physician did not react when fetal distress was first identified.
DEFENDANTS’ DEFENSE The ED physician was told that the baby had died. Perhaps the child’s heart had started again by the time the second US was performed and a heartbeat found. The hospital denied negligence.
VERDICT A Pennsylvania jury found the ED physician not negligent; the hospital was 100% at fault. A $78.5 million verdict included $1.5 million in emotional distress to the mother, $10 million in pain and suffering for the child, $2million in lost future earnings, and the rest in future medical expenses.