Death of Baby Claimed by Delayed Delivery Ends in Jury Verdict for Doctors

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.

Hydrops is a result of serious fetal abnormality causing excessive fluid accumulation in two or more cavities of the body.

The efforts to resuscitate the infant were unsuccessful until the neonatologist performed a thoracentesis, which drained fluid that had accumulated around the baby’s lungs. However, baby Makayla died several hours later. The treating neonatologist listed the cause of death as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and multi-system organ failure.

A private autopsy was done 3 ½ weeks later by a pathologist who concluded that the cause of death was congestive heart failure.

In the lawsuit, the family of Makayla maintained that Dr. Dungan and the hospital residents deviated from the standard of care by choosing not to appropriately communicate with each other, choosing not to recognize a normal fetal heart tracing and fetal distress, and failing to do an emergency Cesarean section to deliver the baby sooner due to non-reassuring fetal heart tracings between 9:10 pm and 9:55 p.m. on Sept. 17, 2009.

The estate’s expert gave the opinion that due to the defendants’ negligent failure to timely deliver the baby, Makayla developed severe intrauterine hypoxic ischemia which resulted in fetal hydrops and caused her death.

The defendants argued that the fetal heart tracings were overall reassuring, the obstetrician team communicated appropriately and kept the attending physician advised of the patient’s status, there was no need to deliver the baby prior to 3:00 am and the delivery was expedited at that time.

The defendants further asserted that fetal hydrops is the end manifestation of a serious problem in utero which could not possibly develop within the several hours of the labor and delivery timeframe, but rather would take at least days to weeks to develop. There was no hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy due to anything that occurred during the labor and delivery, and fetal hydrops was the cause of the baby’s death. The jury reportedly deliberated for 2 ½ hours, which included lunch. The jury’s verdict was in favor of the doctors.

At the jury trial, the medical testimony for the family included neonatologists, a pediatrician, an obstetrician and a pathologist. The expert testimony given in the case on behalf of the estate of Makayla Carter was an obstetrician.

The defendants engaged experts in maternal and fetal medicine and neonatology.

At trial the attorney representing the family of Makayla Carter asked the jury for a verdict of $1,832,637. There was no offer to settle the case before the onset of a jury trial.

Estate of Makayla Carter, deceased minor v. Jeffrey S. Dungan, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, No. 10 L 7520 (Cook County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling birth trauma cases, birth injury cases, birth death cases and medical negligence cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Long Grove, Western Springs, South Barrington, Willow Springs, Winnetka, Steger, Crete, Justice, Homewood, Highland Park, Hickory Hills, Brookfield, Arlington Heights, Barrington Hills, Elgin, Flossmoor, Beecher, Forest Park, Franklin Park, Glenview, Maywood and Lincolnshire, Ill.

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