On October 30, 2013, Los Angeles County agreed to a $7.5 million settlement on a lawsuit filed by a formerly homeless woman. The plaintiff claimed the medical staff at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center was negligent during her labor and delivery, causing serious injuries to her baby boy.
A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry reported that pregnancy rates in homeless women in the U.S. are much higher than those among women who are housed. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also note in a recent update that women and families represent the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, and that health care for homeless women is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
Homeless Women Sent Home Prematurely
Dyrene Loftis, 25 years old, was rushed to the hospital by ambulance in Los Angeles in April 2012. She was 39 weeks pregnant, and was experiencing severe abdominal pains. She alleges that she was in the labor and delivery area for 14 hours, then was discharged by a medical resident without being seen by an obstetrician.
Twelve hours later, Loftis returned to the hospital. At that time, she was diagnosed with a ruptured uterus, and delivered her baby boy, Micah, via an emergency cesarean section. The ruptured uterus allegedly caused injury to the baby’s brain, leaving him with permanent brain damage.
What is a Ruptured Uterus?
A uterine rupture is a condition where the mother experiences a tear in the wall of the uterus, usually at the site of a previous cesarean section. It often happens early in labor, and usually shows itself by a change in the baby’s heart rate. According to a 2002 report in American Family Physician, approximately one of every 67 to 500 women suffers from a uterine rupture. If the rupture is complete and goes through all layers of the wall, it can cause uncontrolled bleeding and deprive the baby of needed oxygen.
Those at the highest risk for a uterine rupture include women who (1) have had prior cesarean sections; in the past, (2) have had uterine surgery; (3) who are delivering large babies; or (4) who have been induced into labor with medications. Women who have other placenta problems may also have a higher risk.
Symptoms of uterine rupture include searing abdominal pain (a symptom experienced by Loftis), pain and tenderness in the abdomen during labor, vaginal bleeding, high pulse rate, and chest pain.
Jury Awards $7.5 Million
Loftis alleged that because of the poor medical care she received, her baby boy suffered a lack of oxygen during delivery that led to his brain damage. He now suffers severe brain damage and requires assistance to breathe and eat.
On October 30, 2013, the $7.5 million settlement was approved by the Los Angeles Superior Court. The money will go to purchase an annuity to pay for Micah’s future medical care. Some of it will also be used to help Loftis buy a house.