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Medical Verdicts


Did use of vacuum, forceps lead to brain damage?

January 2004 · Vol. 16, No. 1

<court>Undisclosed County (Mass) Superior Court</court>

After experiencing ruptured membranes with clear amniotic fluid at 33 weeks’ gestation, a 25-year-old gravida was hospitalized. Two weeks of regular fetal monitoring showed no fetal compromise.

At 34 weeks’ gestation, the woman began to experience contractions. Hospital staff noted her white blood cell count had elevated to 16,700 and her temperature was 99°. Amniotic fluid analysis showed a positive PG, indicating fetal lung maturity.

At 9:15 that evening, the mother was fully dilated. By 11:00 PM, the woman had been pushing for nearly 2 hours but the infant had not moved past the +2 station in occiput anterior position. The Ob/Gyn then made several unsuccessful attempts at vacuum extraction before ultimately using forceps to deliver the baby at 11:09 pm.

Upon delivery, the newborn had Apgar scores of 8/9. A few minutes later, however, he developed breathing problems and within 24 hours experienced seizures. A large bruise was noted on his head. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) taken 8 days later revealed he had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage. The child has severe permanent brain damage and suffers from extensive handicaps and cerebral palsy.

In suing, the plaintiff alleged that the Ob/Gyn failed to conduct proper examinations and perform a timely cesarean. Further, he claimed the doctor did not properly communicate the risks of vacuum or forceps delivery. The plaintiff charged that the doctor’s misuse of the vacuum and forceps led to his brain damage.

The doctor maintained that he did not deviate from the standard of care and that the child’s injuries were the result of prematurity. Further, the physician argued that the MRI images were inconsistent with the type of trauma that would result from the use of a vacuum or forceps.

  • The case settled for $3.25 million.

The cases presented here were compiled by Lewis L. Laska, editor of Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts (www.verdictslaska.com). 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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