Massachusetts News

Cerebral palsy case ruled as malpractice

After deliberating for less than four hours, a jury found two Massachusetts general obstetricians negligent in a 1996 delivery, eventually resulting in the birth of an unresponsive baby who had bruises on her head that ended up being cerebral palsy. Now requiring an aide at all times, as well as braces and a stroller, special instruction and therapy, the jury awarded a $23.8 million verdict – the third largest overall award in state history.

After going into labor at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 1996, an overnight obstetrician started Maria Lynn McLaughlin on Pitocin to start contractions. An obstetrician was supposed to take over McLaughlin's care at 7 a.m., but there was no record she checked in on her until 11:50 a.m. The McLaughlins said that the nurses continued to steadily increase her dose of Pitocin for more powerful labor contractions, and labor continued all day without the baby moving closer to delivery.

By 4:45 p.m. the doctor had McLaughlin lie on her side and put on an oxygen mask, then the doctor signed out for the night. McLaughlin's lawyers contended the doctor should have offered a caesarean section because the escalating doses of labor inducing drugs harmed the baby. When the next doctor was supposed to take over McLaughlin's care at 5 p.m., the family said she did not appear in the room until 7:30 p.m. and took no action to end the stalled labor until 9:30 p.m. when the doctor began using a vacuum extractor to pull the baby out.

The baby had moved too far down the birth canal for a caesarean section by the time the second doctor chose to extract the baby, but the suction, according to McLaughlin's lawyer, did not work after five tries and 11 minutes. When McLaughlin finally pushed her baby out, the baby was initially unresponsive and had bruises on her head. A brain scan showed bleeding around the brain, though the doctors' lawyer claimed none of the bleeding was inside the brain.

The jury sided with McLaughlin, believing the birth injuries resulting in cerebral palsy were in response to the doctors' medical malpractice. The $23.8 million award includes $12.9 million in damages and $10.9 million in interest because the case was filed in 1998. The lawyer representing the doctors promised to appeal the decision to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

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