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A Philadelphia jury awarded $3.5 million on Friday to parents whose newborn they argued would have lived longer than five days had her delivery not been delayed 45 minutes by hospital staff who didn’t immediately send her very pregnant mother to the delivery room, the lawyer for the parents said.

Instead, the parents contended, they sat in a crowded emergency room for nearly an hour after checking in, watching as the ER clerk on duty tried to find out who in the hospital had ordered a pizza pie for delivery, said the lawyer, James E. Foerstner of The Beasley Firm.

After four days of testimony, the jury deliberated Martel-lacci v. Frankford Health Care System for about an hour before handing its verdict to Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Sheldon C. Jelin, Foerstner said.

The jurors found the Torresdale campus of Frankford Hospital liable for the wrongful death of Philip and Bernadette Martellacci’s daughter. They awarded the parents $2 million on that count and $1 million for survivorship, said Foerstner and the hospital’s attorney, E. Chandler Hosmer of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin.

The jury also found the hospital liable for the negligent infliction of emotional distress, awarding Bernadette and Philip $250,000 each on that claim. A claim of contributory negligence on behalf of the Martellaccis was rejected, the lawyers said.

Hosmer said yesterday that his client has already begun the process of appealing the verdict. He declined to comment further.

Foerstner said that he plans to file for delay damages.

The Martellaccis and the hospital disputed the length of time they spent waiting in the hospital emergency room before someone escorted them to the obstetrics suite.

Under hospital policy, women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant (which Ber-nadette was) are supposed to be directed immediately to the delivery room unless some other serious medical symptoms require immediate attention, Foerstner explained. He said that hospital representatives testified as much during trial, but denied that the Martellaccis had been delayed in the ER.

Bernadette Martellacci had had a normal pregnancy with her second child, but about a week before her due date she began having painful contractions.

According to their complaint, the couple arrived at Frankford Hospital’s ER at approximately 6:10 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2001. Foerstner said the Martellaccis knew this because in the car they were timing Bernadette’s contractions, which then were two minutes apart.

About 10 minutes later, an acquaintance of the Martellaccis who was a pizza deliveryman came to the ER to deliver a pizza. He testified at trial that he was there for about 30 minutes while the clerk tried to figure out who in the hospital had ordered the pie, Foerstner said.

There was no record of when Bernadette was admitted to the ER because that document was destroyed by the hospital, as is its usual practice, Foerstner explained.

No doctor or other hospital staff member examined Bernadette while she waited, according to the complaint, which de-scribed her as “being in extreme pain, distress and obvious labor.”

At 7 p.m., she was taken to the obstetrics department, admitted and placed on a fetal monitor, which show-ed that the newborn’s heart was beating 70 to 80 beats per minute, Foerstner said. (A fetal heartbeat at that stage of pregnancy should be 140 to 160 beats a minute.) At 7:12, it had slowed to 50 beats a minute, Foerstner said.

The baby was not breathing when she was born via an emergency Caesarean section at 7:26 p.m.; doctors were able to resuscitate her seven minutes later. After surviving on a neonatal heart-lung machine for five days, the infant died on Jan. 11 of respiratory and multiple organ failure, according to the complaint.

Bernadette was later diagnosed with a placental abruption – the placenta had torn away from the uterus, depriving the fetus of oxygen, Foerstner said.

A plaintiff’s expert, Carolyn Stocker Crawford of the Atlantic City Medical Center, testified that the 45-minute delay in the baby’s birth was a substantial contributing factor to the infant’s injuries in utero, Foerstner said. Had the baby been delivered earlier, Crawford hypothesized, her injury could have been less serious, Foerstner said.

He emphasized that the lawsuit didn’t target the doctors who treated Bernadette.

“Once she was attended to by a physician, he did everything he could appropriately – heroically – to care for her,” Foerstner said. “It was the hospital personnel who had failed to administer their own policies and procedures.”

The hospital argued in its defense that the Martellaccis should have called their obstetrician instead of going to the ER so that the doctor could have given them instructions or met them in the emergency room, Foerstner said.

In response, the plaintiffs presented a booklet entitled, “The Gift of Motherhood,” which the hospital had given them during neonatal classes that instructed them to go immediately to the hospital for help if the parents believed mother or baby to be in physical distress, Foerstner said.

The hospital also contended that the Martellacci baby would have developed the health problems that caused her death even if Bernadette had been taken immediately to the obstetrics suite of the hospital when she first arrived in the ER, Foerstner said.

Foerstner said that the hospital proposed two high-low agreements during the trial, but the Martellaccis rejected both. It also proposed a $450,000 settlement, which the parents rejected.

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