Lehigh County Pennsylvania Jury Awards $4 Million to Family in Birth Injury Lawsuit

On September 11, 2013, The Morning Call news out of Allentown, PA reported that a Lehigh County jury awarded $4 million to Easton mother, Erin McCarthy, and her daughter, Chloe, after her daughter suffered serious injuries during delivery due to her obstetrician’s failure to perform a timely cesarean section.

Delayed Cesarean Sections Can Cause Injuries

Obstetricians, midwives, and other healthcare practitioners involved in delivering babies have certain standards of medical care they are required to live up to. One of their responsibilities is to recognize when the fetus is under stress, and when it is advisable to perform a cesarean section to protect the health of the baby and/or the mother.

During a difficult delivery an infant may suffer serious injuries if the doctor waits too long to move into the operating room. Such injuries may include bruises, broken bones, infection, lack of oxygen, brain damage, nerve damage, cerebral palsy, and Erb’s palsy. Signs that a cesarean section may be necessary include fetal heart rate changes, low oxygen levels, umbilical cord problems, breech presentation, delayed or prolonged labor, shoulder dystocia, and other signs of fetal distress.

Baby Becomes Lodged in Birth Canal

Often, if a baby is large, the baby’s shoulder can become lodged under the mother’s pubic bone during delivery—a condition called “shoulder dystocia.” This presents unique challenges to the physician, as using too much force to dislodge the infant can result in injuries, yet failing to react quickly can result in loss of oxygen.

According to allegations, an ultrasound four days before Erin McCarthy went into labor revealed that the baby weighed about ten pounds. The plaintiff claimed she expressed concern to her doctor about the size of the child, and whether there may be safety issues during delivery.

Dr. Garry C. Karounos, Ms. McCarthy’s obstetrician, allegedly ignored her concerns and proceeded with a vaginal delivery. Labor was difficult, and actually stopped progressing for nearly eight hours. At one point, the baby’s shoulder became lodged in her mother’s pelvis—a case of shoulder dystocia. The doctor failed to recommend a cesarean section, and instead, continued with vaginal delivery, using forceps to assist in dislodging the baby.

Jury Awards Verdict to Plaintiff

The infant was deprived of oxygen during delivery, and was born with serious injuries. She had to be resuscitated by the neonatal intensive care team at the hospital, and later underwent a procedure to minimize the damage from the lack of oxygen. Chloe is now four years old and suffers from cerebral palsy and neurological injuries, including speech delays and cognitive problems. The mother also allegedly suffered injuries from the birth that left her unable to work.

The jury, after hearing testimony from other medical experts, awarded Erin and Chloe $4 million in damages. As the doctor’s liability insurance is limited to one million, it’s unclear whether the family will be able to collect the entire verdict.