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Medical Verdicts


Was atypical preeclampsia diagnosed too late?

August 2003 · Vol. 15, No. 8

<court>Pecos County (Tex) District Court</court>

A 31-year-old woman at 30 weeks’ gestation presented to a hospital with abdominal pain and normal blood pressure. Emergency room personnel called the obstetrician at home, at which time the physician ordered a urinalysis.

Test results showed elevated protein, bacteria, and white blood cells. The obstetrician diagnosed a urinary tract infection, prescribed oral antibiotics, and advised the patient to return the next morning.

As she was leaving the hospital, the woman suffered a seizure and was rushed back to the emergency room. The obstetrician came to the hospital, diagnosed acute eclampsia, and treated her with magnesium sulfate. Moments later, she suffered a grand mal seizure.

The doctor performed an emergency cesarean section. The premature infant was transferred to another hospital. During and after the procedure, the woman suffered increased hemorrhaging. She died the following day.

In suing, the family claimed that the doctor should have come to the hospital upon the woman’s admission. Had he done so, he would have diagnosed preeclampsia and treated the condition immediately.

The doctor argued that the patient’s initial visit did not suggest preeclampsia. Further, he claimed the woman had developed a rare and rapidly developing form of preeclampsia that would have resulted in her death regardless of the time of diagnosis.

  • The jury returned a verdict for the defense.

The cases presented here were compiled by Lewis L. Laska, editor of Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts. While there are instances when the available information is incomplete, these cases represent the types of clinical situations that typically result in litigation.

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