Just days before trial, a Georgia hospital has decided to settle a birth injury lawsuit, offering a Columbus family an undisclosed settlement amount. On March 5, 2018, St. Francis Hospital announced the resolution of a case begun more than five years ago, in which a couple accused doctors employed by St. Francis of botching their daughter’s delivery in 2011, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.
St. Francis Hospital Settles Cerebral Palsy Lawsuit
The child, now 6 years old, has been diagnosed with extensive brain damage, cerebral palsy and general developmental delays. Her parents say two obstetricians at St. Francis, Dr. Susan L. Epley and Dr. Daniel J. Eikelberry, are to blame for their daughter’s injuries.
The girl was born with Group B Streptococcus, an infectious bacteria that reached her brain, causing meningitis and, ultimately, brain damage. Both obstetricians, according to court records, failed to catch the infection in blood tests of her mother. A proper diagnosis, if accompanied by antibiotics, would have prevented the infection from spreading to her unborn child, the parents argue.
Dr. Epley and Dr. Eikelberry settled their share of the liability suit in May 2017, as did Piedmont Columbus Regional, a healthcare provider network in Atlanta that owned the Medical Center at the time of the girl’s delivery. The child was delivered at the Medical Center, but their obstetric care was provided by Drs. Epley and Eikelberry, both of whom are employees of St. Francis Hospital.
Atlanta Obstetricians Failed To Catch Maternal Infection, Lawsuit Claims
In pre-trial court filings, the Columbus family told a judge in the Superior Court of Muscogee County that St. Francis should be held partially-accountable for the alleged medical malpractice of its two employees, Drs. Epley and Eikelberry.
On July 28, 2011, the mother, only 35 weeks pregnant, went to the Medical Center with pre-term contractions. She was admitted by Dr. Epley, who prescribed a regimen of intravenous antibiotics to prevent the mother from spreading any infections to her unborn child in the event of an immediate delivery. Magnesium sulfate was also administered, court documents say, to stop the contractions and avoid an early labor.
Group B Streptococcus
But crucially, the family maintains, Dr. Epley failed to test the mother for Group B Streptococcus, a form of bacterial infection often found in a pregnant woman’s vagina, before ordering the antibiotics. The family argues that the standard of care applied to obstetricians requires Group B Streptococcus (GBS) culturing at this point in the management of a pregnancy. The mother was discharged after two days in the hospital, having received multiple courses of antibiotic treatment.
Antibiotics “Masked” Dangerous Vaginal Infection
Several days later, the mother went in for a routine prenatal appointment with Dr. Daniel Eikelberry, another obstetrician employed by St. Francis Hospital. During the visit, Dr. Eikelberry cultured her for Group B Streptococcus, but the test came back negative. Despite the test results, the mother had been “colonized” by GBS; she had the infection, but the doctor’s test failed to catch it.
“When Dr. Eikelberry saw [the mother] in the office on August 1, 2011, he should have recognized that she had been in the hospital several days prior, where she received Ampicillin, an antibiotic known to effectively treat GBS,” the family claims. “Knowing that Heather had recently received antibiotics,” the pre-trial filing continues, “Dr. Eikelberry should have recognized that a culture performed on that date could not be relied upon to accurately reflect her GBS status.”
Infection Passed To Child, Causing Brain Damage
Around two weeks later, the mother returned to the hospital in labor. After looking over the test results from Dr. Eikelberry’s practice at St. Francis, the birth team concluded that there was no need for antibiotics during the labor, since the mother’s GBS culture had come back negative.
The child was delivered around 8:32 in the evening. She appeared to be healthy. But about a day later, the baby’s temperature had skyrocketed. “Lab tests indicated that Gracie had an infection,” the family writes. “Subsequent blood and spinal fluid studies confirmed that Gracie contracted Group B Streptococcus at birth resulting in meningitis. The infection in her brain resulted in seizures, and Gracie has since been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, cortical visual impairment, and generalized developmental delay.”
Atlanta Hospital Avoids Trial Through Settlement Agreement
It was the second medical malpractice trial to be held against St. Francis Hospital in just three months. In December 2017, a jury in Muscogee County State Court issued a $26 million verdict against the hospital. St. Francis agreed to pay the case’s plaintiff $25 million in compensation for complications she suffered after a neck surgery.
Apparently, St. Francis wasn’t excited about the prospect of another trial, one in which millions of dollars hung in the balance. “A looming trial is a great motivator for parties to see things more clearly, and more fully evaluate the risk,” says attorney Lyle Warshauer, who represented the family in their birth injury claim. “Quite frankly, this is [a case] that should have resolved a long time ago.”