Articles Posted in Wrongful Death

Karla Fountaine received prenatal care from a general practitioner, the defendant Dr. Cheryl Gill. At the time, she was 34 years old. During her pregnancy, she developed gestational diabetes.

When she began bleeding and suffering from increased blood pressure and headache, she was admitted to a hospital but shortly thereafter she was sent home. At 34 weeks gestation, she was readmitted to the hospital with continuing headaches and spiking blood pressure. She passed out in the hospital. An obstetrician delivered her baby.

Fountains suffered brain damage and subsequently died after the birth of her child. She was a former auto worker who had been retraining for another position. She was survived by her husband, an infant son and two other minor children.
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Andrew and Marni Hotchkiss, a couple in their 30s, were struggling with infertility. They consulted an obstetrician and infertility physician, Dr. Siu Ng-Wagner. The couple and the doctor agreed to use a gestational carrier. As the Hotchkiss family selected potential surrogates online, the couple sent these candidates to Dr. Ng-Wagner for medical screening. Dr. Ng-Wagner subsequently interviewed Christina Jensen and told the Hotchkiss family that everything was “all clear.”

Jensen delivered the Hotchkiss’s baby at 25 weeks gestation after developing pre-eclampsia during the pregnancy. The newborn child developed sepsis and died just 3 weeks after birth.
The Hotchkisses filed a lawsuit against Dr. Ng-Wagner and her medical practice claiming that she chose not to review Jensen’s medical records before recommending her as a suitable surrogate.

This would have revealed Jensen’s history of pre-eclampsia in her pregnancy the year before the Hotchkiss’s baby’s birth. The plaintiffs also argued that Dr. Ng-Wagner had a duty to inform the Hotchkisses that she had not reviewed Jensen’s records before clearing her to be named a surrogate.
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Carol and Keith Klaine filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Frederick Dressen D.O. and Southern Illinois Medical Services d/b/a The Center for Medical Arts. In an amended complaint, the plaintiffs added a party defendant, Southern Illinois Hospital Services d/b/a St. Joseph Memorial Hospital and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale (SIHS), for negligent credentialing of Dr. Dressen.

In the discovery process, SIHS provided over 1,700 pages of documents. However, SIHS refused to provide certain documents, which it listed in a privilege log, as required by Illinois Supreme Court Rule 201(n), asserting that the withheld documents were privileged pursuant to, inter alia, the Medical Studies Act (735 ILCS 5/8-2101) and the Healthcare Professional Credentials Data Collection Act (Credentials Act) (410 ILCS 517/1 et seq.).

The plaintiff moved the court to review the SIHS excluded documents that it claimed were privileged for an in-camera review. After reviewing the documents, the circuit court judge agreed with SIHS that all of the documents were privileged, with the exception of those documents contained in “Group Exhibit B,” “Group Exhibit F” and “Group Exhibit J.”

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Most recently, I have heard from mothers who have tragically lost a full-term baby for inexplicable reasons. In one particular case, the mother called me to talk about why her full-term child died in utero. She said that all of her prenatal care was uneventful. In fact, just 3 days before her due date, her doctor and staff did a final checkup on both her and her unborn child. Both were well.

This mother was 38 years old and had been trying for a full-term delivery with her husband for 7 years. She had been pregnant only once before but miscarried early in that pregnancy. Other than her somewhat advanced years, she had no known risks.

Yet when this mother called her doctor to say that the baby was not active, now just 2 days before her due date, the doctor discounted the alarm and told the mother that maybe she was in the early stages of labor. Instead, the mother’s blood pressure had actually become dangerously elevated,  which put the baby at risk.

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On Sept. 17, 2009 Crystal McFadden was admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in full-term labor. Her care was managed by a team of resident obstetricians under the direction of the defendant, Dr. Jeffrey Dungan, the supervising attending obstetrician.

During the course of her labor, the residents and nursing staff documented late and variable decelerations on the fetal heart monitor with periods of minimal or undetectable variability, but they described the fetal heart tracings as being reassuring overall.

Around 3 a.m. on Sept. 18, 2009, after McFadden had been trying to push for 1.5 hours, the fetal heart tracings became non-reassuring and the senior obstetrician resident called Dr. Dungan to perform delivery. By then the baby’s head was crowning, so the delivery was accomplished with a vacuum extractor. However, the infant was born with no signs of life. The neonatologist in the delivery room stated that the baby appeared to be hydropic with generalized swelling, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity), and pleural effusion.

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Stacy Maxberry attempted a vaginal birth after a Cesarean section birth. This is often referred to as “V-back.” During the delivery, the fetal monitor showed repetitive decelerations, a dangerous sign for the unborn child. The obstetrician in charge of the birth was Dr. Matthew Whitted, who was contacted about the repetitive decelerations showing on the fetal monitor. However, Dr. Whitted did not come to the hospital to look at the fetal monitoring strips. Maxberry was told to continue pushing.

When the fetal heart rate patterns worsened, Dr. Whitted was called again. This time he ordered a Cesarean section, which was done 30 minutes later. Stacy Maxberry’s son was stillborn.

She sued Dr. Whitted claiming that he chose not to call for a timely Cesarean section after the first phone call and chose not to evaluate the fetal monitoring strips more closely. In the hour between the first and second telephone call to Dr. Whitted, Maxberry argued that her unborn baby suffered a fatal hypoxic event. The jury agreed and entered its verdict in favor of Stacy Maxberry for the wrongful death of her unborn child at $1.5 million.

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In a confidential settlement, the parties agreed to $1,250,000 for the unfortunate death of a newborn infant. In this case, before the mother’s scheduled Caesarean section, the mother underwent three transplacental amniocenteses to assess her baby’s lung maturity. The purpose of a transplacental amniocentesis is to compare transplacental with non-placental amniocentesis because of possible complications.

Amniocentesis is a frequently used invasive procedure during a woman’s pregnancy guided by ultrasound to remove a sample of amniotic fluid for testing. The procedure requires specialized medical or assistant training. Amniocentesis is a technique for withdrawing amniotic fluid from the uterine cavity using a needle.

The fluid is then tested in a laboratory to determine the health of the unborn fetus. The fluid is composed mostly of fetal substances including urine and secretions. Many times amniocentesis is done to determine whether there are genetic difficulties or to study the maturity of the unborn fetus’s lung maturity. There are risks involved with the transplacental amniocentesis, which occurred here. There was fetal bleeding from an alleged placental abruption that may have been caused by the amniocentesis procedure.

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In most cases of medical malpractice that occur at private institutions, the hospital, its physicians and medical providers could be held liable for injuries caused by choosing not to take an order for proper tests, by not making the correct diagnosis and by not rendering the appropriate medical treatment. But in a hospital such as Cook County Hospital (John Stroger Hospital) or any other public hospital or medical provider, the outcome could be much different. Under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, a public institution like the John Stroger Hospital/Cook County Hospital could be responsible for injuring a patient only if it were found that it was negligent in treating the patient. However, the hospital would not be held liable if injury or death came upon a patient for the omission of not ordering tests or improperly or incorrectly diagnosing a patient.

Under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act, public entities and their employees are “immunized” from liability in the event of hospital or medical negligence for an act or omission by an employee, physician or other hospital-employed medical provider when the claim is for a misdiagnosis or in choosing not to correctly diagnose an illness or condition that causes injury to a patient.

In one stark example of how this immunization arises is the case of Michigan Avenue National Bank v. Cook County, 191 Ill.2d 493 (2000), where the Illinois Supreme Court weighed in on the case of a young woman who made a number of visits to Cook County Hospital indicating that she had a mass that had developed in her left breast. She returned to the hospital a number of times, but it was not until two years later that the lump was diagnosed as breast cancer.

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During Ms. Doe’s 32nd week of pregnancy, she experienced contractions. Doe went to a nearby hospital where vaginal bleeding, elevated blood pressure and pre-term labor were all noted in her hospital chart. She was under observation for about 36 hours at the hospital before she was discharged to go home.

About 14 hours after discharge, Doe’s water broke. She returned to the hospital where she delivered her daughter by way of an emergency Caesarean section. The child’s Apgar scores were 1 at one minute and 4 at five minutes.

The child was diagnosed as having suffered an asphyxia and spent a number of weeks in the hospital’s intensive care unit. The baby died one year later from pneumonia and complications of severe brain damage suffered at birth.

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A settlement was reached in a case where a newborn, known as “Doe,” was born with a congenital condition in which part of her internal organs developed outside of her body.Right after her birth, Doe underwent a series of surgeries to place those organs inside her body.  After one of the surgeries, Doe began having difficulty breathing.  Her treating doctors placed her on a mechanical ventilator and cardiac machine and also gave her medications, all of which were not successful in returning her oxygen saturations to normal.

Doe then suffered cardiopulmonary arrest, which resulted in permanent brain damage.  Doe died two years later.

Doe’s family sued the hospital and Doe’s treating physicians claiming that the defendants chose not to provide extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and also failed to timely transfer the child to another hospital. Use of ECMO, a heart and lung machine for babies that circulates blood outside the body, would have permitted Doe’s body to rest and recover, the lawsuit claimed.

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