Wrongful Death of North Carolina Pregnant Patient After Delivery

In a North Carolina wrongful death decision, the plaintiffs were the parents of a pregnant woman who died. The decedent found she was pregnant with her first kid in 2012. She became a patient of the defendant, a member of an alliance of providers providing obstetrical care. The defendant entity had five physicians who were involved in treating the patient.

The doctors diagnosed her with lupus during the prenatal period. In her third trimester, she complained of cramping, and the doctors found her blood pressure was elevated, and her urine contained protein. She was sent to a medical center to be evaluated for potential preeclampsia. Her doctor at the medical center conducted tests that showed she was suffering from severe thrombocytopenia, hemolysis, and elevated lactate dehydrogenase.

The medical center doctor consulted with the woman’s obstetrician, and they agreed they should induce labor and deliver the baby once her platelets stabilized. She gave birth to a son without complications. That morning, another doctor took over and diagnosed the patient with HELLP syndrome. A transfusion of red blood cells was ordered. The patient’s blood pressure rose, and another transfusion was ordered. A third one was ordered later.

The doctor evaluated her and found that the woman’s issue wasn’t behaving like normal HELLP and consulted a hematologist. An MFM doctor evaluated her and diagnosed her with hemolysis, low platelet syndrome, and elevated liver enzymes. The transfusions were stopped because the doctor believed they were detrimental. Another doctor evaluated her, and a plasma exchange was ordered.

Before she got the plasma exchange, however, the patient went into cardiac arrest and died. The autopsy found the death arose from complications associated with unresolved severe microangiopathic hemolytic anemia and thrombocytopenia. Her family filed a wrongful death action, alleging that there was negligence by the obstetricians and that the defendants were liable based on respondeat superior. Among other things, they argued it was negligent not to consult a maternal fetal medicine specialist or hematology specialist or to evaluate lab values properly before a certain date.

The plaintiff designated a professor who focused on obstetrics as an expert, as well as another professor who focused on hematology, to provide expert opinions about a breach of the standard of care and causation.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff hadn’t produced a qualified expert on the breach of the standard of care, as required under Rule 702(b) of the North Carolina Rules of Evidence and G.S. § 90-21.12. The court granted summary judgment for the defendants.

The plaintiff appealed. She argued that her designated experts were qualified to provide expert testimony on the breach of care and that their testimony sufficiently forecasted which evidence they’d provide on the proximate cause issue. The defendant argued that the expert wasn’t familiar with the community standard of care required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.12 and that he wasn’t qualified because he didn’t practice in the same specialty. The defendant also argued the other doctor wasn’t qualified because she hadn’t spent most of her time in actual clinical practice or student instruction in the year prior to the injury date.

The appellate court agreed that there was no evidence the first doctor knew the standard of care in the community or a similar community. No affidavit was presented to supplement his deposition testimony. In her deposition, the other doctor had testified 50% of her work was administrative, and therefore, she couldn’t have spent most of her time in clinical practice or student instruction related to obstetrics. The appellate court found, moreover, that even if her testimony made it in on the issue of the standard of care, there was insufficient evidence of proximate causation.

The lower court’s ruling was affirmed.

If you suffered injuries due to the wrongful conduct or negligence of another party, the experienced North Carolina wrongful death attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 888-258-1087 or via our online form.

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