Emergency C-section leads to $34 million award in malpractice suit

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published January 18, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • The jury in a Maryland malpractice case found St. Joseph Medical Center at fault for brain damage to an infant following a 2018 emergency C-section. 

  • Malpractice suits in obstetrics often carry a hefty price tag; suits against this specialty are the most likely to have payouts of over $1 million.

  • Improvement in healthcare team communication, patient safety culture, understanding of varied socioeconomic backgrounds, and other areas could help reduce injuries and fatalities in this specialty.

A Maryland family has been awarded $34 million after a judge found that the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, performed an unnecessary C-section in 2018.

According to Maryland's The Daily Record, the complaint stated that Tara Anderson was diagnosed with premature labor and fetal distress when she sought care for back pain and lower abdominal cramping at the Medical Center in December 2018. The complaint stated that medical tests given to Anderson at the time found no signs of placental abruption or labor.[] Anderson apparently wasn’t experiencing contractions and had no other symptoms beyond the pain.

Emergency C-section performed

However, the diagnosis of preterm labor and danger to the fetus led to an emergency C-section. At the time, Mrs. Anderson was 23 weeks pregnant. After the delivery, her child, Ethan Anderson, showed signs of brain damage, that complaint stated. He will require extensive medical care and support for the rest of his life, according to The Daily Record. 

St. Joseph Medical Center and the attending physician, Eshanjit Sapra, maintain that the C-section was needed and that Ethan Anderson would have died if not for the procedure.

Despite these claims, a jury ruled against St. Joseph Medical Center in March 2023. The Anderson family was awarded almost $34 million with $20 million intended to cover Ethan’s future medical care. It’s expected that part of this award, $10 million for pain and suffering, will be reduced to comply with Maryland’s cap on damages,[] but the award for past and future medical care, along with Ethan’s lost education potential, are not expected to change. It’s likely the final amount will be around $25 million, The Daily Record reported. 

Labor, delivery, and malpractice

Although labor and delivery today are safer for mothers and infants than they have been historically, complications, injuries, and fatalities do still occur.

Mothers in the United States have a higher risk of injury and death during childbirth than women in any other developed country.[] This risk isn’t evenly spread among all demographics. Data shows that factors such as the age of the mother, the racial and ethnic background of the mother, and the location of the medical facility all influence the likelihood of a healthy and safe delivery. 

A CDC data brief outlines that infant mortality was 54% higher for infants born to mothers over 40 in rural areas than it was in urban areas.[] Additionally, while there was a large increase in fatality in infants born to non-Hispanic White or non-Hispanic Black mothers in rural areas when compared to urban areas, infants born to Hispanic mothers had a similar fatality rate in urban and rural areas, according to the CDC. 

Fatalities, injuries, and other complications during delivery can occur for a number of reasons. Often, factors outside of the control of physicians, such as genetics and maternal health, play the largest role.[]

However, there are also many moments during labor and delivery when medical errors can lead to injuries and fatalities.

The potential for serious injury to both mother and child is part of why OB/GYNs are consistently one of the medical specialties that see the highest numbers of malpractice suits, according to a report from the AMA.[] The AMA found that 62.4% of all OB/GYNs had been sued at some point in their career. By comparison, only 8.6% of all endocrinologists and diabetes experts surveyed had ever faced a malpractice suit. 

“Doing obstetrics, being named in a lawsuit is almost an occupational hazard because of its nature,” says Darion Burch, DO, an obstetrician with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “I think if you do enough obstetrics, no matter how good [you] think you are, it’s going to happen, especially in labor and delivery. There’s an ‘X Factor’ in managing patients [who are in] labor because it’s a very dynamic environment."

"Often, you can question the decisions you make, and if the decision leads to a poorer outcome, it also leads to a lawsuit more often than not."

Darion Burch, DO, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

OB/GYN malpractice suits more likely to result in payouts

The Anderson case highlights how serious and large these medical errors and malpractice suits can be, but it is just one of many examples. In fact, data shows that malpractice cases against OB/GYNs are more likely to result in payouts than other specialties, with the highest proportion of “catastrophic payments,” meaning >$1 million.[]

Other high-award cases related to C-sections include a case against the University of Chicago Medical Center in 2016 with a $53 million verdict[] and a 2011 case brought against Stanford Medical Center that resulted in a nearly $60 million award, the largest in Vermont history.[]

The children in both cases, similar to the Anderson case, had severe, and expected to be lifelong, disabling conditions as a result of what was ruled to be serious medical error and negligence. 

The number of malpractice cases filed against OB/GYNs peaked in the mid-2010s and has been on the decline since then. However, the specialty still sees a large and costly amount of suits. A recent study analyzing malpractice cases found that over half of all injuries and fatalities claimed were preventable.[]

What this means for you

Malpractice cases against OB/GYNs are more likely to result in payouts than other specialties, with the highest proportion of “catastrophic payments.” Further analysis of these cases shows that improvement in areas such as healthcare team communication, patient safety culture, and understanding of varied socioeconomic backgrounds could help reduce these injuries and fatalities.

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