The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied the appeal of a doctor hit with one of the largest medical malpractice verdicts ever recorded in northeast Pennsylvania. The doctor and the medical center where he worked have been ordered to pay $20.5 million to a couple whose son suffered permanent medical problems when he was born.

The mother of the boy contacted her doctor’s office on the morning of his birth in June 2001, concerned because she felt decreased fetal movement. A doctor who wasn’t her primary physician told her to go to a medical center in Scranton. He suspected the decreased movement was caused by a lack of oxygen flow to the baby. The mother went to the clinic, where the doctor’s suspicion was confirmed. The nursing staff called the doctor to come deliver the baby, but according to the family’s lawyer, the doctor didn’t arrive for at least another two hours.

The doctor testified that he wanted more tests, but he didn’t immediately order them and they weren’t completed until much later. Meanwhile, the baby continued to suffer from the lack of oxygen. The test results eventually came back and confirmed a major abnormality, after which the doctor ordered that labor be induced. The family and their attorney claimed this was below the standard of care. An induced labor required an injection of Pitocin, which stimulates contractions but also causes a decreased flow of blood and oxygen from mother to child. The drug caused the baby’s heart rate to drop dangerously low.

The baby had no heart rate when he was born and it took more than 10 minutes to resuscitate him. The birth complications left him blind and developmentally disabled with cerebral palsy. According to the plaintiffs, he functions at the level of an infant and requires around-the-clock care just to survive.

Sealing the verdict was the doctor’s admission that inducing labor instead of performing a Caesarian section was an unwise move. The jury deliberated for four hours before returning the verdict, which includes $2 million for health care expenses and related costs. The boy will receive $18.5 million on his 18th birthday for lost earnings, pain and suffering and medical expenses.

The medical center wasn’t involved in the state Supreme Court appeal, nor in an earlier appeal to the state Superior Court. Both defendants must continue to compensate the family, who will use the award to provide 24-hour care for their son.

Source: The Times-Tribune, “Supreme Court denies doctor’s appeal of $20 million jury verdict,”

March 3, 2012