State Supreme Court Affirms Dismissal of Birth Injury Medical Malpractice Lawsuit

The Supreme Court of Iowa affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the plaintiff’s medical malpractice claims against the medical provider defendants, holding that there was no reversible error.

The child involved in this case is identified as T.D., who was born Aug. 31, 2007 at the Henry County Health Center. Dr. James Widner, employed by Family Medicine of Mt. Pleasant P.C., was the physician in charge of T.D.’s prenatal care and delivery.

During labor and delivery, the child’s shoulder became stuck on his mother’s pelvis. The defendant physicians and nurses performed maneuvers to resolve the stuck shoulder. However, the plaintiff child T.D. was born with a permanent nerve injury, brachial plexus, preventing the normal use and function of the child’s left arm. Shoulder dystocia is a birth injury that occurs in cases just like this, when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck inside the mother’s pelvis. This condition is a medical emergency because the infant’s delay in birth may cause severe brain damage or death if not resolved in six minutes or less. Dr. Widner and the nurses performed maneuvers that resolved the shoulder dystocia in one minute and ten seconds. However, T.D. was born with a permanent injury to his left shoulder and arm, a nerve injury referred to as a brachial plexus that prevents normal use and function of his arm. T.D.’s delivery was captured on a 21-minute birth video recorded by T.D.’s aunt.

Nearly a year and a half after the filing of the medical malpractice birth trauma injury lawsuit on March 10, 2016, T.D. filed a motion for leave to amend and substitute the original complaint. Defendants resisted, citing concerns that T.D. was raising new claims of negligent training and credentialing for the first time, less than 60 days before trial. On Oct. 13, 2017, after an evidentiary hearing, the district court determined T.D.’s proposed amendment “that adds a new claim of negligent training does ‘substantially change the issues or defenses of the case. Allowing the amendment would prejudice the defense in this case.”

After making this ruling, the district court granted defendants’ motion in limine relating to, among other things, any reference to either the hospital’s training and credentialing process or Dr. Widner’s training as a family practice physician, including his continuing medical education records.

In addition, the district court reduced T.D.’s proposed jury instructions as to the maneuvers of Dr. Widner and the nurses. On appeal, T.D. argued that the court’s final jury instructions were prejudicial.

However, the state supreme court found that the district court’s jury instructions adequately encompassed T.D.’s legal theories of negligence.

Based on the jury’s verdict, the district court entered an order dismissing the plaintiff’s claims. The state supreme court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not commit reversible error in the specifications of negligence it submitted to the jury; (2) plaintiff was properly prevented from introducing continuing medical education records to show a breach in the standard of care; (3) the district court abused its discretion by prohibiting the use of continuing medical education records as impeachment evidence, but the error was harmless; (4) defendants’ expert opinion testimony was properly disclosed and did not reflect an opinion in anticipation of litigation; and (5) the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the jury’s access to video evidence during the deliberation.

As to the argument that T.D. raised with the district court and on appeal that it should have been allowed to cross-examine Dr. Widner’s continuing medical education for impeachment purposes, the Supreme Court found that such error was harmless and not reversible error. For these and other reasons, the state supreme court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s birth injury, medical malpractice lawsuit finding there was no reversible error other than the abuse of discretion for the district court to prohibit the use of the continuing medical education records as impeachment evidence.

Eisenhauer v. Henry County Health Center, 17-1971 (Iowa Supreme Court, Oct. 25, 2019).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling birth trauma injury lawsuits, shoulder dystocia injury lawsuits, brachial plexus injury cases and nursing home negligence lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Grayslake, Bellwood, Bensenville, Calumet City, Deerfield, Flossmoor, Highwood, Lansing, Lemont, Kenilworth, Morton Grove, Chicago (Little Village, Back of the Yards, South Side, Rosemont, East Side, Logan Square, Bucktown, Edgewater, Uptown, Bronzeville, Albany Park, Edison Park, Portage Park, Belmont Cragin, Humboldt Park), Harwood Heights, Rosemont, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates and Mt. Prospect, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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