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Medical Verdicts

Stress test normal, but infant is stillborn

January 2004 · Vol. 16, No. 1
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<court>Boyd County (Ky) Circuit Court</court>

Upon noting a decrease in fetal movement, a woman at 37 weeks’ gestation contacted her obstetrician. She was sent to the hospital’s emergency room, where she was administered a contraction stress test, which was normal. She was admitted to the hospital overnight as a precaution.

Two days after her release, she returned to the hospital, again reporting decreased fetal movement. The doctor performed an ultrasound and told the woman that the fetus had no heartbeat. A stillborn was delivered via cesarean section.

The mother sued, arguing that more tests should have been administered before she was released from the hospital. She maintained that subsequent testing—including a biophysical profile—would have detected an abnormality. Prompt delivery may have offered her son a chance for survival, she said.

The doctor contended that a stress test was well within the standard of care. In fact, he noted, keeping the patient an additional night in the hospital exceeded that standard. The doctor also claimed that a normal stress test did not call for additional testing. In addition, he pointed out that the mother did not properly record her kick count after she was discharged. He linked the infant’s demise to an underlying circulatory problem that could not be detected via fetal monitoring.

  • The jury returned a defense verdict.

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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