Parents Launch Investigation Into Child’s Death, Saying Severely Delayed C-Section Was to Blame

Baby bed hospitalPoor communication can lead to any number of negative outcomes. However, these usually translate to a hit to the bottom line or a missed deadline. In medicine, poor communication can mean the difference between life and death. In the delivery room, in particular, communication breakdowns can affect two important people in the room: the mother, and her unborn child. For this reason, a Scottish couple filed a legal action against a hospital for lifelong brain damage their baby suffered as a direct result of a delayed cesarean section.

Jennifer Kennedy was a late-term mother who had scheduled a C-section at her local hospital. This practice is common; the risks to a baby become higher further from his or her due date, especially since the placenta can begin to deteriorate. On that morning, she arrived at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock at 40 weeks pregnant. Hospital staff told her a doctor would be in to perform her C-section in 2 hours.

The Communication Breakdown

Unfortunately, this is where a disastrous communication breakdown occurred. During the shift change, staff members failed to communicate important information to other members of the staff, which delayed Kennedy’s C-section. Despite her insistence, nurses pressed her to try for a natural birth. Twelve hours after Kennedy was supposed to have her C-section, her uterus ruptured, and her baby, Elijah, lost his heartbeat.

The doctor immediately performed an emergency C-section, but it was too late. It took a full 15 minutes to resuscitate Elijah, who suffered irreversible brain damage.

Elijah survived the initial encounter, but required constant care and supervision. His lifespan was short, and he died at his home when he was just over 6 months old.

Kennedy pursued a legal action against the hospital, and they ultimately offered her $10,000 in compensation for her losses in 2017. She noted that it hardly seemed justice for the pain and suffering her family endured in losing a child.

The Elements of Medical Malpractice

Though this case happened in Scotland, one can only wonder how the case would have proceeded had it occurred in the United States. The system for pursuing compensation in the civil justice system is markedly different. In order to succeed in this case, Kennedy would have to show, based on a preponderance of the evidence, that it was more likely than not that the hospital committed malpractice. This involves proving:

  • Duty—that the hospital owed a duty of care to Ms. Kennedy.
  • Breach – that they deviated from an established standard of care when treating Ms. Kennedy. In her case, she scheduled a C-section because she had a condition called placenta previa, which is a risk factor for uterine rupture. According to news reports, she had also had a previous C-section, which is another risk factor for uterine rupture when the body goes into labor naturally.
  • Cause – the deviation from the care standard was the direct cause of the baby’s injuries.
  • Harm – the family suffered damages as a result, both monetary (economic) and non-monetary (pain and suffering, emotional anguish).
The Costs of Brain Damage During Birth

Elijah Stirling suffered catastrophic brain damage as the direct result of the hospital’s negligence. A communication breakdown had a direct effect on both mother and baby, putting Ms. Kennedy in life-threatening danger and ultimately claiming the life of Elijah at a young age. In a statement to her local newspaper, Ms. Kennedy reported that Elijah needed constant care and intensive medical attention. Proper treatment of brain damage may require advanced medical treatment such as respirators, pulse oximeters to measure oxygen saturation, additional monitoring equipment, and more. This advanced medical equipment can lead to hefty out-of-pocket expenses and present a serious financial burden to the family.

The cost of these medical interventions can be thousands of dollars, especially in the United States with its system of privatized health care. If an incident like this occurs in the United States – and cases like these do happen – then a family could go into serious debt trying to make their children more comfortable.

Civil court cases like the one that Ms. Kennedy pursued for Elijah serve to help families recoup costs from the negative consequences of medical malpractice. Though no claim can undo the horrible injustice that happened to Elijah Stirling, a claim would help the family gain recompense for his care and final expenses.

The civil justice system in the United States serves an important role in helping families who suffer the consequences of medical malpractice. It provides financial security to those who suffer monetary and intangible losses at the hands of negligent health care entities. It’s difficult to say what might have happened if this case had occurred within the U.S. justice system, but it’s possible that the family may have had more legal options than the settlement they reached with the hospital.