Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Malpractice Case Leads to $4.4 Million Verdict After Nurse Trainee Failed To Diagnose Fetal Distress

If cared for by a doctor or a nurse individuals usually expect that the physician or nurse either (1) has the knowledge and experience to make a correct diagnosis of whatever is wrong with their health and recommend appropriate treatment or (2) is being supervised by a senior doctor or nurse who does. Under the second situation, the physician or nurse can gain experience while treating actual patients as long as their mistakes are noticed and rectified so that patients are not harmed. After all, they attend school, study, and invest many, many hours learning practical understanding through real experience. But until they achieve an appropriate level of experience they are likely to make errors. Plus going back to expectations people want to be sure that any such mistake will not hurt them.

The learning curve is steep but it does exist. While in the training period these new physicians and nurses will inevitably make errors. Although many errors will have little, if any, consequences some will lead to severe harm or even in the fatality of a patient. That is why they need supervision by more experienced physicians and nurses who are able to catch and correct the mistakes. Else, even one mistake that is not rectified by the supervising doctor or nurse can result in tragic outcomes.

Recently a claim was reported that described how an expectant mother went to the hospital with complaints of nausea and vomiting. At the hospital the pregnant woman was monitored by a nurse trainee. The nurse trainee connected the mother to a fetal heart rate monitor to check on the unborn baby. The strip documented that the woman's unborn baby was in severe fetal distress. It was that nurse trainee, however, rather than an experienced doctor or nurse, who interpreted the tracings from the fetal heart rate monitor. The nurse trainee misread the strip as normal. Lacking any supervision by a doctor or a registered nurse, the nurse trainee failed to take any action to safeguard the health of the baby and merely reassured her and discharged her.

Three days later the infant was delivered as planned. Although the infant survived the delivery she was born with serious brain damage. She developed cerebral palsy. She had persistent seizures. The little girl spent the following four years of her life enduring seizures, undergoing therapy and had to be fed through a feeding tube as she could not eat on her own, before dying due to complications from her cerebral palsy. She was survived by her father and mother and by her 11 and 16 year old brothers. The law firm that represented the parents was able to report that they took the case to trial and achieved a verdict on behalf of the parents in the amount of $4,400,000.

This case is an example of what can happen if a doctor or nurse who is still in training is allowed to treat patients on their own prior to having totally developing the necessary skills. A nurse trainee is much more likely to make an error that can cause a significant injury to a patient. But while an experienced labor and delivery nurse has interpreted hundreds or thousands of these strips a nurse trainee has only interpreted a few and is much more likely to make an error. When the mistake is not caught, as in this case, the result can be devastating and lead to a malpractice case.

Joseph Hernandez is an Attorney accepting injury cases. To learn more about fetal distress and other birth injury matters including erbs palsy cases visit the website.

by Joseph Hernandez


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