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12 Year Old Boy Settles Birth Injury Claim

medical malpracticeA settlement in the millions was reached in a birth injury case brought against the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland. A 12 year-old boy, through his mother, claimed that he suffered the effects of substandard medical care at the time of his birth at Kerry General Hospital in 2003. The settlement, which amounts to just under $2 million U.S. dollars, was made without admission of liability, and is considered an interim payment by Mr. Justice Kevin Cross.

In another six years, the High Court will re-examine the health care and long-term needs of the Kerry County boy, who suffered seizures and other undisclosed injuries at birth.

Birth was improperly managed, claimed plaintiffs

According to allegations, the boy was subjected to negligent care and prolonged episodes of fetal distress after his mother was admitted to the maternity unit in labor. The claim further argued that abnormal fetal heart monitor tracings were essentially ignored and that medical staff delayed the child’s delivery despite worrisome indicators that the baby was unwell.

The complaint also contends that attending health care personnel continued to give the mother oxytocin (also known as Pitocin) even though tracings showed the baby was in distress. Oxytocin is generally prescribed to help start or strengthen uterine contractions, but has been associated with fetal risks including irregular heart rate, hypoxia, central nervous system damage and poor Apgar scoring, according to some studies.

Early signs and symptoms of fetal distress may include:

  • Reduced fetal activity
  • Fetal lactic acidosis
  • Meconium in the amniotic fluid
  • Irregular or erratic fetal heart rate

The negligence claims brought by the boy and his mother were originally denied as the HSE countered that the obstetric care rendered was in-line with the applicable standard and that fetal heart tracings gave no cause for alarm.

However Justice Kevin Cross of the High Court eventually approved the interim birth injury settlement, adding that he hoped the funds would give the boy the kind of normal life he was entitled to have.

Importance of recognizing & managing fetal distress

Given the serious and often catastrophic outcomes of prolonged fetal distress, it’s crucial that obstetricians, doctors and midwives are alert to changes in heart rate patterns such as late decelerations, variable decelerations or continued bradycardia. This may signal that the fetus is not receiving sufficient oxygen in utero, which can cause lasting brain damage.

In some instances, a prolapsed or compressed umbilical cord may the culprit, while other cases may stem from maternal hypotension or a placental abruption. In the face of this obstetric complication, doctors usually stop the administration of Pitocin and may order an emergency C-section delivery. 

If signs of fetal distress go undetected or ignored by attending medical personnel during the course of labor and delivery, they may be held liable for any resulting birth trauma sustained by the baby. Litigation may result in a jury verdict or out-of-court settlement that includes damages for related medical costs, emotional trauma, lost wages and future earning capacity and long-term care needs.

  1. Irish Examiner, Kerry boy settles case against HSE for €1.75m

  2. National Institutes of Health, What is fetal distress?