Trial Academy Director John R. Penhallegon on May 1 received a defense verdict in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County after an eight day jury trial involving the death of a young woman and her unborn child from a ruptured common iliac artery.
Plaintiffs' decedent, age 35 and 25 weeks pregnant, called her obstetrician to report the sudden development of severe abdominal and back pain while at home watching television. The defendant obstetrician recommended she go to the hospital for evaluation to rule out pre-term labor. At the hospital the patient described her pain as constant and 10 out of 10. Fetal monitoring showed a normal for gestational age fetal heart rate and there was no evidence of pre-term labor. Hospital staff contacted the defendant obstetrician by telephone and a series of orders were given for blood, urine, and ultrasound studies. All were negative and did not reveal an explanation for the pain. Ultimately the defendant ordered by telephone Dilaudid, a narcotic, for pain control. With approval of the physician by telephone, the patient was discharged an hour later with reassurance that no serious problem was found and a prescription for pain medicine. The presumed diagnosis was round ligament pain, a musculoskeletal disorder from stretching of the uterine ligaments during pregnancy.
According to testimony the decedent's pain continued at home requiring additional narcotics. Some eight hours after leaving the hospital, the decedent suffered a rupture of her common iliac artery resulting in massive hemorrhage and her death as well as the death of her unborn child.
Plaintiffs included a surviving spouse and three minor children. It was alleged that the defendant breached the standard of care by ordering narcotics without ever coming to personally examine the decedent and in failing to obtain a CT scan which would have revealed an aneurysm easily treatable surgically. Defense experts testified that the standard of care did not require the defendant to personally examine his patient, that a CT was not required because of the risk to the fetus of radiation exposure, and that the plaintiff suffered a spontaneous and unpredictable spontaneous iliac artery rupture so no aneurysm would have been shown by CT.
Economic damages claimed were in excess of $2 million. Non- economic damages for the decedent's conscious pain and suffering as well as solatium damages for the surviving family members of an additional $3 million dollars were requested in closing argument. The jury returned a verdict finding that the defendant did not breach the standard of care.