In the early morning hours of December 24, 2014, a patient was 33 weeks pregnant and complaining of severe abdominal pain and contractions. Upon examination by the nursing staff, no contractions were found and the abdomen was soft and non-tender with no vaginal bleeding. The patient’s symptoms were then reported to the on-call OB/GYN physician.
The physician then gave various orders for the patient, including a STAT ultrasound. One hour prior, the patient was taken to have the ultrasound and when she returned, her abdomen had become stiff. The nursing staff again called the on-call OB/GYN physician to report the condition of the patient. After the second call, the OB/GYN physician came to the hospital to examine the patient and the outcome was a Cesarean Section and the patient’s baby was stillborn. The results of the ultrasound were not returned to the physician until approximately 15 minutes after the emergency C-section had been performed. The ultrasound revealed a large placental abruption.
During the trial spanning April 16th-18th, 2018, the plaintiff-patient alleged that the on-call OB/GYN physician failed to consider the seriousness of the patient’s condition when he was first notified and because of her symptoms, he should have immediately come to the hospital to evaluate her. She also alleged that if the on-call physician would have come to the hospital after the initial phone call, he could have diagnosed the placental abruption, performed the C-section sooner, and the patient’s baby would have survived.
The plaintiff’s expert, Albert J. Phillips, M.D., testified that the patient’s initial presentation of symptoms indicated that she was suffering from a medical emergency and that the patient’s report of severe pain and contractions should have prompted the on-call OB/GYN physician to come evaluate the patient. He also testified that once the physician arrived at the hospital, he further delayed in performing the emergency C-Section and that was also a proximate cause of the fetal death.
Malcolm Howell, M.D. and Marion Bissell, M.D., defense experts, countered that the pain that the patient was suffering from was not unusual for a pregnant patient and that the patient was initially not exhibiting signs of a medical emergency or a placental abruption. They also testified that pain alone is not enough to require an on-call physician to personally evaluate the patient when taken in conjunction with the patient’s other, re-assuring, symptoms. Defense experts further testified that the orders that the on-call OB/GYN physician gave after the initial call were completely appropriate and his actions after arriving at the hospital fully complied with the standard of care.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendant on-call OB/GYN physician after a three-day trial, and deliberation by a jury for less than two hours.