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Parents File Wrongful Death Action Following Death of Newborn

mother holding baby's foot

Following the abrupt and unexpected death of their five-day old son, two Illinois parents filed a wrongful death action against the United States of America, the U.S. Attorney General, and the individual obstetric team tasked with attending and monitoring the child’s birth. The lawsuit, which was filed on September 16, 2015, alleges severe negligence on the part of the obstetrician and midwife assigned to the plaintiff’s care – both of whom are considered employees of the United States for purposes of the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).

What follows is an account of the plaintiff’s experience as recounted in the specific allegations of the complaint, as well as the various causes of action alleged by the parents against those believed to be responsible for the allegedly foreseeable and avoidable death of their first child.

Details surrounding alleged wrongful death

The plaintiff-mother of the deceased child endured a relatively innocuous pregnancy, aside from a positive Group B streptococcus test – which is typically administered in the 36th week of gestation. The mother did not present with systems of obesity, fetal macrosomia, or any other indication that a difficult birth would be to follow. After carrying her child to term, she began active labor on March 18, 2012, and was administered Pitocin as an augmenting agent to increase the strength and intensity of the contractions.

After enduring a notably prolonged active phase of labor, the child began to exhibit signs of fetal distress, marked by a Category III fetal heart rate tracing. In this scenario, a child will exhibit symptoms including heart rate variability, recurrent decelerations of the heart rate and slow recovery of the heart rate. After the so-called “ominous” pattern continued, the child was delivered by vacuum extraction on March 19, 2012 at 1:41am.

After delivery, the child registered a 0/0/0 APGAR score at one, five, and ten minutes post-delivery. The child was transferred to a neo-natal intensive care unit, and concluded to be totally brain dead due to a prolonged lack of oxygen during the childbirth process – a condition known as hypoxic encephalopathy.

At five days post-partum, the child passed away.

Birth injury lawsuit: causes of action

The plaintiffs, as representatives of the child’s estate, raised several causes of action in their birth injury lawsuit, including negligence, against the hospital and its staff, supported by the following factual assertions:

  • Staff failed to properly evaluate the child during labor and delivery.
  • The mother and child were not skillfully attended to congruent with accepted standards in antenatal care.
  • The staff ignored the signs of Category III fetal distress during the last hour of labor, which were clearly evidenced on the heart strip.
  • Staff failed to initiate any life-saving resuscitation measures on the baby, including cessation of Pitocin or changes in maternal position.
  • The obstetrician failed to order an emergency Caesarian section.

In addition to allegations of negligence, the child’s estate asserted a cause of action for survival. In a survival action, surviving immediate family members (i.e., next-of-kin) can obtain compensation for the pain and suffering endured by the victim of a wrongful death action, as well as the medical expenses related thereto.

As well, the parents included a cause of action for family expenses, which allows for recovery related to the medical expenses associated with the victim’s funeral, burial, and final illness.

  1., Federal Tort Claims Act II,

  2., Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy in the Term Infant,