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Medical Verdicts

Excessive force used on fetal head?

March 2005 · Vol. 17, No. 3

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

A woman experienced a normal pregnancy and an uneventful labor through delivery of the fetal head, at which time shoulder dystocia was encountered.

Delivery notes indicate that the obstetrician used suprapubic pressure, the McRoberts maneuver, and minimal traction on the fetal head to dislodge the shoulder. The child, 8 lb 9 oz at birth, was noted to have bruising to his head and scalp, a molded head, and limited movement of his left arm and hand. He was diagnosed with Erb’s palsy, and claims to have permanent damage to his left biceps, left triceps, and middle deltoid, despite 3 surgeries and extensive physical therapy.

In suing, the child claimed that the defendant used excessive force when pulling on his head during delivery.

The obstetrician admitted she had pulled continuously on the fetal head for 20 to 30 seconds, and did not know how much force she used.

She claimed, however, that it was impossible to determine the cause of the child’s injury, which may have occurred prior to delivery. Further, she noted the injury was minor and did not greatly impede the plaintiff’s quality of life.

  • The jury awarded the plaintiff $1.8 million.

The cases in this column are selected by the editors of OBG Management from Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, with permission of the editor, Lewis Laska, of Nashville, Tenn ( 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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