A Maine Medical Malpractice jury returned its verdict in the amount of $500,000 in favor of the plaintiffs in a Maine medical malpractice case in which the plaintiffs alleged they suffered severe emotional trauma when a pathologist working at the hospital where their 18-week fetus was stillborn took unauthorized tissue samples from the fetus against the plaintiffs’ explicit instructions that no surgical pathology examination be done. The plaintiffs were shocked when they saw the tiny body of their baby at the funeral home and observed a large incision and a hole on the left side of his body.
The Underlying Facts
The Maine medical malpractice plaintiffs were saddened to learn that their baby had no heartbeat after repeated ultrasounds taken at 18 weeks. The stillborn fetus was delivered on July 4, 2013 at the Maine hospital. The plaintiffs only authorized that a skin sample from the fetus and a sample from the placenta be taken, and only in their presence, for genetic testing. The plaintiffs named what would have been their sixth son, Hunter.
Unbeknownst to the plaintiffs, the fetus and the placenta were subsequently delivered to the hospital’s laboratory. There, a pathologist (not employed by the hospital) took unauthorized tissue samples from the fetus without the knowledge or consent of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs only discovered that additional tissue was removed from their fetus the day after the stillborn delivery, when they saw a “gaping hole” on the fetus’ left side at the funeral home.
A photo taken of the fetus at the funeral home, which was introduced into evidence over the objection of the Maine medical malpractice defendants, reportedly showed the plaintiffs’ fetus cupped in the palm of one hand with a long cut along the left side of the body.
The plaintiffs alleged in their Maine medical malpractice lawsuit that the defendant Maine hospital was negligent by failing to complete forms or otherwise note in the medical records regarding the parents’ wishes that no further surgical pathological testing of tissue be undertaken, and that they had specifically instructed the hospital’s staff regarding their wishes. The plaintiffs further alleged in their Maine medical malpractice lawsuit that the defendant hospital failed to return to them all tissue samples taken against their wishes; in May 2015, the defendant hospital “discovered” additional tissue slides of the fetus.
As required by Maine medical malpractice laws, the plaintiffs’ Maine medical malpractice claims were initially heard by a medical malpractice screening panel that found in favor of the defendants, which decision was not binding on the Maine medical malpractice jury.
The 9-person Maine medical malpractice jury found by a vote of 8 to 1 that the defendant hospital breached the standard of care and that such medical negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ alleged damages. With regard to the defendant pathologist, the Maine medical malpractice jury found by a vote of 6 to 3 that the defendant pathologist breached the standard of care and that such medical negligence was a proximate cause of the plaintiffs’ alleged damages.
The plaintiffs’ medical malpractice attorney had asked the jury to awarded each of the plaintiffs $100,000. The Maine medical malpractice jury awarded the plaintiffs $500,000 in late September 2017, after a four-day trial.
The defendant hospital reportedly changed its policy in August 2013 with regard to how it handles a fetus when the parents request that there be no surgical pathology examination of the fetus’ body.
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