Now 18 years old, Kenyatta Lewis’s son lives with significant physical and cognitive disabilities due to birth injuries. Ms. Lewis sued the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and responsible staff in 2020, although her son was born in 2004. A jury found in her favor and awarded her $13.3 million for her son’s medical care and other needs.
Failure to Recognize Signs of Fetal Distress
Brain injuries at birth range in severity from mild to severe and life-threatening. There are many potential causes, and in some cases, the ultimate underlying cause is staff negligence and medical malpractice.
Standard care for a woman in labor includes monitoring for and acting on signs of fetal distress. When nurses or doctors fail to monitor or ignore or don’t recognize the severity of distress signals, the mother and baby can suffer.
This is just part of what happened to Kenyatta Lewis and her son. Ms. Lewis arrived at the Bel Air, Maryland, Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, which is part of the University of Maryland Medical System, on July 26, 2004. She was there to have labor induced.
After 17 hours of difficult labor, Ms. Lewis had elevated blood pressure and there were signs of fetal distress. According to her lawyers, the staff should have begun a cesarean section much earlier based on these complications. Doing so would likely have resulted in no harm to the baby.
Improper Administration of Pitocin
Another error staff can make during labor and delivery is in the administration of Pitocin. Pitocin is a drug used to induce labor and contractions. Pitocin can speed up labor, but it can also cause complications. Staff is supposed to use small amounts while carefully monitoring the fetus. Excessive use of Pitocin can lead to infant brain damage, maternal stroke, uterine rupture, hemorrhaging, and other serious harm.
The legal team for Ms. Lewis argued in the lawsuit that the staff did not administer Pitocin safely. In addition to failing to monitor distress adequately, this increased the risk of complications and ultimately led to brain injuries and damage in the baby.
Doctor Found Negligent
Over the course of a two-week trial, the jury heard arguments on both sides but ultimately agreed that staff doctor, Arthur Morey was negligent. He was responsible for keeping Ms. Lewis and her baby safe but made preventable errors that could be considered negligence.
The jury returned a verdict in Ms. Lewis’s favor along with a sizable award for her son’s needs. The $13.3 million award included $10.5 million for his future medical treatment and care as well as damages for loss of earning capacity due to cognitive impairment. The jury also included $2 million for pain and suffering, but Maryland caps non-economic damages, so the amount was reduced.
The medical staff has a responsibility to provide a certain standard of care for all patients. Mothers and babies are particularly vulnerable to harm from negligent errors. In this case, the jury agreed that the staff could and should have done better and were responsible for this boy’s long-term disabilities.