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Jury Awards Family $38.5M in Erred Baby Delivery Resulting in Cerebral Palsy

birth injuryA jury found an obstetrician liable for the death of a baby during delivery of twins, rendering a $38.5 million award to the family in the largest medical malpractice settlement in the state’s history, according to local news reports. The case took place in Connecticut, but our birth injury attorneys in Raleigh wanted to show how jury trials out-of-state might help provide an example for North Carolina birth injury cases.

The jury determined Dr. Corinne De Cholnoky was negligent for not performing an emergency Caesarean section sooner; the delay caused the second twin Spencer to be born with cerebral palsy. The doctor, a Harvard Medical School graduate, had successfully delivered the first of the twins, Emma, 27 minutes earlier.

Court testimony said Spencer’s umbilical cord was cutting off blood flow to his brain. Dr. De Cholnoky spent 12 minutes attempting to deliver Spencer naturally before performing the Caesarean section. The baby was born 15 minutes later with cerebral palsy and will need 24-hour care for life. Spencer’s life expectancy is between 20-50 years, depending on expert witness statements from both sides.

The doctor’s attorney, James Rosenblum, said the jury was "overcome by sympathy" instead of focusing on evidence that showed his client acted "reasonably, appropriately and thoughtfully" during the medical procedure. Dr. De Cholnoky testified she was aware the situation was an emergency but thought she could deliver the baby by natural means in less time than with a Cesarean section since the baby was "almost out."

Rosenblum said expert witnesses testified the baby may have suffered health problems while still in the womb. He is planning an appeal of the verdict. Rosenblum said Dr. De Cholnoky's insurance covers a "tiny" fraction of the court’s award.

Plaintiff’s Attorney Said Doctor Wasted Precious Minutes

Richard Silver, attorney for the infants' family, said the doctor waited too long before beginning the Cesarean delivery of Spencer. Attorneys for the plaintiffs compared the heartbeats of the two twins as proof. Emma’s heartbeat was 150 beats per minute but Spencer’s was less than half the normal rate. Lawyers contended Spencer’s slower heartbeat was the result of his umbilical cord trapped between his skull and his mother's pelvic bone.

Dr. De Cholnoky filed a complaint accusing the hospital nursing staff of “failing to react properly to the emergency." She later dropped the formal accusation. The court cleared the hospital (co-defendant) of wrongdoing in a suit filed by the infants' family.

This was the second medical malpractice suit filed against Dr. De Cholnoky in her two decades of practicing. The other case was dismissed when the statute of limitations had expired, according to Rosenblum.