$7,500,000 Jury Verdict Against a Hospital and Doctor For the Delayed Delivery of a Baby. Child Was Diagnosed With Athetoid Cerebral Palsy

The brain damage that results in cerebral palsy can be caused by different forms of negligence, such as from compressing the umbilical cord, for example, or from failing to monitor the baby’s heart rate. In the case of Hippocrates Mertsaris, a series of mistakes and neglects affected his health permanently and led to his athetoid cerebral palsy.

The Case of Hippocrates Mertsaris

Hippocrates Mertsaris was delivered at the 73rd Corp. Physician’s Hospital on September 22, 1974. His mother, Evangelina Mertsaris, experienced slowed contractions and was given Pitocin by Dr. Nicholas Arabos to speed up the labor. Dr. Arabos neglected to run an X-ray pelvimetry to compare the size of the baby’s head to the mother’s pelvis. The monitoring of the baby’s heart rate was also neglected by both Dr. Arabos and the nurse Patricia Fitzpatrick, as well as by another physician who entered the delivery process, Dr. Francis DiFabio. Hippocrates was born with breathing issues, no muscle tone, no reflexes, and a low Apgar score, which measures color, reflexes, muscles, respiration, and heart rate one minute after birth.

Dr. Arabos cut the umbilical cord and handed the baby over to Dr. DiFabio and Fitzpatrick, as he claimed that resuscitation was not his strength. DiFabio used an oxygen mask on the baby and later placed him on an incubator while allegedly ordering the use of the drug Nalline. Fitzpatrick used a mucus trap for the suctioning. Hippocrates was placed on a crib until pediatrician Dr. Constantine Gotsis arrived. Dr. Gotsis examined the child and ordered him placed in an Armstrong incubator with 40% oxygen but did not order a PH blood test for acidosis, excessive carbon dioxide in the brain. The baby was diagnosed with hypoxia, lack of oxygen, and was admitted to New York Hospital.

Aftermath of the Negligence

Hippocrates was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy. This condition left the patient with profound motor impairments of both upper and lower extremities, but he suffered no intellectual disabilities. Hippocrates is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Athetoid cerebral palsy, also known as dyskinetic cerebral palsy, is defined by the patients’ lack of control over their own muscle movements, leading to twisting and abrupt movements. This is because the basal ganglia is the area of the brain that is affected, which is responsible for taking messages about movement from the brain to the muscles.

Trial and Verdict

The lawsuit specifically held Dr. Arabos liable for administering Pitocin in excess and failing to monitor the fetal heart rate and contractions, Dr. DiFabio for failing to monitor the heart rate, improper use of the oxygen bag, and leaving the baby unattended for half an hour before Dr. Gotsis arrived, and Dr. Gotsis, for failing to order the PH test and neglecting to treat the acidosis. The hospital was also held responsible for Fitzpatrick’s actions, as well as for the lack of initial vaginal examination. The jury found Dr. DiFabio 53% at fault, Dr. Arabos 40% at fault, and the hospital 7% liable, while the jury ruled in favor of Dr. Gotsis. The Mertsaris family was awarded a settlement of $7,500,000 in damages.

The defendants made numerous appeals to set aside the verdict, from whether the hospital can charge both Dr. DiFabio and the hospital responsible for the administration of Nalline, as well as whether the rule in favor of Dr. Gotsis compromised the verdict against the other defendants. The court found that it could not find both Dr. DiFabio and the hospital liable for the Nalline order at the same time, while arguing that the verdict in favor of Dr. Gotsis did not "infect" the verdict against the other doctors and the hospital. The motions were denied.

Preventing Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a condition that permanently affects the patient and is not curable, but there are methods to prevent it. For instance, mothers can take measures to live a healthy lifestyle and constantly consult a medical provider to keep up a healthy pregnancy. The doctors performing the delivery can also take steps, such as:

  • Using retrieval or monitoring tools appropriately
  • Communicating with hospital staff constantly
  • Keeping medical experts available in the area at all possible times
  • Monitoring the fetal heart rate continuously
  • Monitoring the patient after using labor-inducing drugs like Pitocin, which can deprive the fetus of oxygen

Properly following these and other measures could have prevented the brain injury that led to Hippocrates’ cerebral palsy.

Seeking Legal Action

Medical negligence is a major source of cerebral palsy and other disorders caused during the delivery process. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that impacts the child's quality of life and changes the life of their family. The family should contact a legal expert on cerebral palsy if there is an indication that the condition was created by negligence or malpractice.