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New York Court Reverses Order Granting Summary Judgment to OB-GYN in Case Involving Death of Mother Attempting VBAC Home Birth

Not all doctors are held to the same standard of care. For example, it would probably be difficult to hold a podiatrist liable for failing to diagnose an abscessed tooth in a Syracuse medical malpractice case, even if the podiatrist was the only medical professional that the patient had seen recently. Rather, care and treatment by doctors who specialize in a particular field is measured according to others in that field. Would a reasonable podiatrist have diagnosed a problem tooth under the circumstances? Probably not (although he or she might have recommended follow-up with a dentist). In contrast, a podiatrist’s failure to recognize and treat a life-threatening infection in a foot wound might result in a finding of liability for negligence, as well as substantial damages at trial.

Likewise, certain knowledge and skill is expected of doctors who specialize in the care and treatment of expectant and laboring mothers. When this duty of care is breached, a family injured by this act of malpractice should have their day in court.

Facts of the Case

In a case originally filed in the Supreme Court for Putnam County, the plaintiff was a man who filed a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking compensation for the death of a woman who died from a uterine rupture and hemorrhage during a home birth assisted by a certified nurse midwife. According to the plaintiff, the decedent had previously given birth via cesarean section but was, at the time of her death, attempting to deliver a child vaginally. The plaintiff further alleged that the decedent’s uterus had ruptured during the attempted vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC) and that she had suffered a fatal hemorrhage as a result. Several different medical providers were named in the plaintiff’s lawsuit, including an obstetrician/gynecologist (OB-GYN) and his medical practice.

The OB-GYN and his practice sought summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint against them. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

Decision of the Appellate Tribunal

The New York Appellate Division, Second Department reversed and remanded, disagreeing with the lower court’s determination that the OB-GYN and his practice were entitled to be dismissed on summary judgment prior to trial. The reviewing court first observed that the OB-GYN had provided blood testing and ultrasounds to the decedent some four times during her pregnancy, the last time being just a couple of days before her death. The court further observed that the OB-GYN had suspected that the decedent’s baby was macrosomic (very large) and that the plaintiff was considerably past her due date. Nevertheless, according to the plaintiff, the OB-GYN had failed to inform the decedent that a home delivery by a nurse midwife was not appropriate, given that her pregnancy was considered to be high risk.

Although the trial court had found that the OB-GYN had only a limited duty to the decedent and that any breach of this duty was not the proximate cause of her death, the appellate tribunal concluded that it was within the scope of the OB-GYN’s duty to the decedent to warn her and the nurse midwife of the enhanced risk of the decedent’s pregnancy and to advise against a VBAC home delivery.

Talk to a Syracuse OB-GYN Malpractice Attorney

The birth of a child should be a happy and joyous time, but, unfortunately, this special day can end in tragedy for a family. If you or a loved one has been hurt by the medical negligence of a Syracuse obstetrician or gynecologist, you need to talk to an attorney who regularly handles these types of cases. At the law firm of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP Personal Injury Lawyers, we regularly assist clients in their attempt to collect reasonable money damages after an act of obstetric or gynecological medical malpractice. To schedule a consultation, call us now at 315-479-9000.

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