Legal: Mother dies from severe preeclampsia

January 1, 2009

Woman, 9 months' pregnant, goes to hospital with severe headache.

A 34-year-old Illinois woman was 9 months' pregnant when she went to the hospital in 2003 complaining of a severe headache. She was admitted to labor and delivery and examined by an experienced L&D nurse and a second-year resident. The patient was diagnosed with preeclampsia, and lab tests showed HELLP syndrome. The hospital policy required administrating labetalol every 10 minutes in increasing doses until the blood pressure fell to a safe range. The patient received three doses of 10 mg each. Induction of labor was started but her blood pressure became critically elevated before delivery and she became unresponsive. An emergency cesarean section was performed and the infant was successfully delivered. A CT scan revealed that the woman had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and she was placed on ventilator support. Four days later, the ventilator was disconnected, resulting in her death.

A lawsuit was filed on her behalf claiming negligence in the failure to control the patient's blood pressure according to the hospital policy, which ultimately resulted in her death.

The defense claimed that the preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome were so severe that she likely would not have survived in any event. A $22 million verdict was returned with both the physician and hospital found at fault.