A Lehigh County jury has awarded more than $4 million to a mother who suffered a vaginal laceration and whose daughter suffered a severe brain injury during delivery.
Following a five-day trial and roughly five hours of deliberation, a unanimous 12-member jury handed down the verdict Monday in Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lawrence Brenner's courtroom.
It appears to be the third largest medical malpractice verdict to come down in the county in the past 10 years, according to a review of The Legal's annual magazine, PaLaw.
In McCarthy v. Karounos, according to the plaintiff's pretrial memorandum, plaintiff Erin McCarthy was pregnant with her now-4-year-old daughter, Chloe, and underwent a sonogram August 19, 2009, which indicated the fetus weighed about 10 pounds.
Both McCarthy and her mother expressed concern about the safety of delivering a baby that large, but defendant obstetrician Dr. Garry C. Karounos assured them that there was nothing to worry about, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
McCarthy was admitted in labor to Lehigh Valley Medical Center on August 23, 2009, at 11:21 a.m., and was 9 centimeters dilated by 4 p.m., according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
But by 11:13 p.m., McCarthy had only progressed to 9.5 centimeters dilated, the plaintiff's memorandum said.
At about 2:15 a.m. on August 24, 2009, after more than two hours of pushing, McCarthy still had not delivered the baby, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
Karounos testified that at this point he offered to perform a cesarean section, but nothing in the medical chart and no one else present at the time supported this claim, the plaintiff's memorandum said.
Instead, after another 45 minutes of pushing, Karounos attempted to use forceps and was able to deliver the baby's head. However, because of the baby's size, her shoulder became stuck and there was a three-and-a-half-minute delay in delivering her body, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
During that delay, the baby was deprived of oxygen and, upon delivery, a neonatal intensive care unit had to be brought in to resuscitate her, the plaintiff's memorandum said.
The neonatal pediatrician who treated the baby at Lehigh diagnosed her with perinatal depression and she was subsequently transferred to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where she underwent "head cooling" in an attempt to mitigate her injuries, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
McCarthy's daughter now suffers from mild cerebral palsy and permanent psychological injuries as a result of Karounos' failure to perform a C-section, the plaintiff's memorandum alleged.
The plaintiff's obstetrics expert, Dr. Henry K. Prince, opined that had Karounos performed a C-section, the baby's shoulder dystocia would never have occurred and she wouldn't have lost oxygen, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
Along with mild cerebral palsy, McCarthy's daughter has shown signs of right hemiparesis and speech delay, according to the plaintiff's memorandum.
In addition to the baby's injuries, the plaintiff also alleged in the memorandum that McCarthy suffered a fourth-degree vaginal laceration, which Prince said also would have been avoided with a C-section.
The defense, in its own pretrial memorandum, argued that Karounos had properly evaluated McCarthy during labor and found no reason why a vaginal birth should not be performed.
The defense further argued in its pretrial memorandum that Karounos successfully delivered the baby despite the shoulder dystocia.
The defense's obstetrics expert, Dr. Victoria M. Petty, said Karounos met the applicable standard of care, according to the defense's memorandum.
Petty also opined that, according to a blood gas reading at the time of delivery, the baby did not suffer oxygen loss during the delivery, according to the defense's memorandum.
The defense's pediatric neurology expert, Dr. Walter Molofsky, said he did not believe the baby suffered any permanent neurological impairments as a result of neonatal complications, according to the defense's memorandum.
Counsel for McCarthy, Stephen J. Pokiniewski Jr. of Anapol Schwartz in Philadelphia, said the defense argued at trial that any brain injuries the baby suffered were the result of the NICU's attempts to resuscitate her.
But the plaintiff's neonatology expert, Dr. Marc Collin, opined that were it not for the NICU team's "state-of-the-art" care, the baby's injuries may have been much worse.
Ultimately, the jury awarded more than $2.1 million for the baby's injuries, including about $160,000 for past medical expenses and $1 million each for past and future noneconomic damages.
The jury also awarded nearly $2 million for McCarthy's injuries, including about $6,500 in past medical expenses, $64,000 in past lost earnings, $550,000 in future lost earnings, $650,000 in past noneconomic losses and $650,000 in future noneconomic losses.
According to Pokiniewski, the defense made no settlement offers in the case until after the jury asked the judge during deliberations for more guidelines regarding noneconomic damages.
At that point, Pokiniewski said, the defense offered to settle for $250,000.
Pokiniewski said he felt the verdict was a good result, particularly for Lehigh County.
Counsel for Karounos, Eugene P. Feeney of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby in Scranton, could not be reached for comment at press time.