Legal: Patient claims obstetrician not readily available during labor

September 1, 2008

19-year-old at 37 weeks' gestation in labor and obstetrician shows up late after C/S is performed.

In 2001, a 19-year-old Minnesota woman in her first pregnancy was admitted to a hospital in labor at 37 weeks' gestation. Late that night the fetal monitor strip showed severe, prolonged variable decelerations that continued. The obstetrician was called at home. He was about 20 minutes away, but did not arrive for nearly 50 minutes. An emergency cesarean section was performed, but the baby suffered severe disabilities.

The patient sued and alleged negligence by the physician in not being readily available to address problems that might arise during labor, in failing to arrange for other physicians to promptly see his patient if he was unavailable, and in failing to promptly come to the hospital after being notified of the fetal distress. The patient alleged negligence by the hospital in failing to note changes in the monitor strip before decelerations became so severe, in failing to notify the physician in a timely manner, and in failing to take steps to minimize or reverse the fetal distress pending arrival of the physician.

The obstetrician claimed he was not called by the hospital at the first sign of difficulty and asserted he came to the hospital as soon as he was called. The hospital contended the fetal monitor strip had been reassuring until there was a sudden and unanticipated change and that its employees acted appropriately after the strip showed severe distress. A $2.5 million settlement was reached, with $1 million from the physician's insurer and the remainder paid by the hospital.