K.M., a minor born at 24 weeks gestation, required prolonged NICU admission due to her ‘threshold of viability’ prematurity. Plaintiff, K.M’s mother, brought suit alleging negligent failures on the parts of our neonatology physicians to recognize the signs and symptoms of omphalitis (umbilical cord catheter infection), and institute timely IV antibiotic therapy. It was alleged that delay in starting antibiotics resulted in the baby developing a blood stream staph infection that seeded to her hip resulting in osteomyelitis that entirely destroyed the child’s left hip acetabulum and femoral head. The child, now seven years old, faces a lifetime of periodic surgeries with future medical expenses alone blackboarded at $1 million+.
It was the defense’s contention that this baby never had omphalitis and that the first sign of a possible infection appeared days after the umbilical cord catheters had been removed at which time empiric IV antibiotics were immediately started while blood cultures were pending. Emphasis was placed on our care providers’ acute awareness that micro-preemies are extremely fragile and at significantly heightened risk of infection. By way of the medical records, we demonstrated the constant vigilance employed to watch for signs, symptoms or labs suggestive of possible infection. We successfully refuted the Plaintiff’s theory that the source of the baby’s blood borne infection were the umbilical vessel catheters by establishing that there were a host of more likely bacterial entry portals with this tiny baby. Well credentialed experts in the fields of neonatology and pediatric infectious disease were presented by both sides. The seven day case was tried before a 12 member jury in Lancaster County. Following approximately 2 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of no negligence in favor of the neonatologists.
As a side bar, Plaintiff’s counsel recently obtained a $6.4 million medical malpractice verdict in Lancaster County before the very same Judge. While Plaintiff’s counsel presented a strong case, we are pleased that the outcome of our trial was different.