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Jury Awards $15 Million for Deadly Diagnostic Error in C-Section

An Illinois jury has awarded a family $15.55 million in compensation for a medical mistake that cost the life of a mother during a C-section in 2008. The father had sued MacNeal Hospital, an OB/Gyn at that hospital, the University of Chicago Medical Center and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist who works there after the two doctors failed to diagnose a high-risk condition that led to complications in the surgery and ultimately cost her life.

The 33-year-old high school teacher had undergone an ultrasound at the University of Chicago Medical Center two months before giving birth. The doctor who interpreted the results of that test, the lawsuit claimed, should have seen or suspected the woman was suffering from a potentially-deadly condition known as placenta accreta that causes serious complications at birth. Unfortunately, he did not.

According to the Mayo Clinic, placenta accreta means that parts of the placenta have grown abnormally deeply into the uterine wall. Instead of detaching harmlessly from the uterus after childbirth as in a typical pregnancy a placenta accreta causes severe bleeding. Failure to diagnose or quickly respond to the complication can be deadly. The condition is typically diagnosed through an ultrasound and/or blood tests.

The OB/Gyn at MacNeal Hospital provided prenatal care for the woman, but he also failed to suspect the risky condition. According to the lawsuit, he also failed to properly treat the condition during the C-section. The baby’s life was spared, but the mother died, leaving behind her newborn child, a 2-year-old son and her husband.

According to the family’s attorney, the jury deliberated for less than six hours before determining the two doctors and their respective hospitals were responsible for the diagnostic error that led to the woman’s death. A spokesperson for the University of Chicago Medical Center expressed the hospital’s sympathy for the family but denied responsibility. That hospital, at least, is considering an appeal.

The cost of the loss of a mother to her small children and their father is incalculable. A doctor or hospital’s deadly diagnostic error or critical failure in treatment affects bank balances or reputations, but those can be repaired. Families are not only harmed financially by the loss of one parent’s income and other contributions but also, and far more fundamentally, by the lifetime loss of love and companionship.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times, “Jury awards $15 million to man whose wife died giving birth to her child,” Tina Sfondeles, Nov. 23, 2013