A Hennepin County jury has awarded $8.9 million to a Bradford, Minn., mother who says that an Allina Health midwife ignored concerns about the size of her baby during her pregnancy and then mishandled the delivery, causing the boy severe and lasting injuries.
The jury ruled Friday in favor of Sirena Samuelson, whose son suffered a broken right arm and severe nerve damage after his birth on Jan. 22, 2016.
On Monday, Allina indicated that it was appealing the verdict, and the family agreed to set aside the judgment and mediate a settlement.
According to documents filed in connection with the lawsuit, Samuelson confided during her prenatal care visits that her son felt larger than her first child, but her certified nurse-midwife countered that the boy was projected to weigh as little as 6 pounds at birth.
When the delivery occurred, at Allina's Cambridge Medical Center, Owen Oakes-Samuelson weighed 10.5 pounds. The average U.S. birth weight is 7.7 pounds. The delivery resulted in shoulder dystocia, a complication in one in 150 births in which the baby's head passes through the birth canal but the shoulders get stuck.
Samuelson's court complaint describes a delivery in which the midwife "grasped the baby's head with excessive force" and pulled so hard that his arm broke and the nerves controlling his arm motions were torn. An engineer who testified for Samuelson said the force was "seven to eight times the average traction used in a routine delivery," court records show.
The Minneapolis-based hospital and clinic system argued during the trial that the nurse-midwife acted swiftly when she discovered the complications. Dr. Ross Anderson took over the delivery and used a surgical incision, or episiotomy, to complete the birth.
Allina's chief executive, Dr. Penny Wheeler, said she stood behind the care provided by the health system and the decision to appeal.
"From my perspective as an OB-GYN, this is an especially difficult situation for everyone involved because outcomes like this can happen even when a care team does everything it possibly can consistent with the standard of care," Wheeler said in a written statement. Although the incident resulted in no policy or training changes, "we always strive to learn from all clinical situations and continuously find ways to improve the quality of care we provide to our patients," Wheeler said.
The baby boy required intensive care immediately after birth, and later underwent two surgeries designed to repair nerve damage and restore function in his right arm. Court documents indicate he has received physical therapy and Botox injections, and that the nerve pain has been so severe at times that he has bitten his own hand
One of Samuelson's attorneys, Joe Crosby, said he could not comment due to the pending mediation, which he said is in the boy's best interests.
The verdict amount was not the largest for a malpractice case in Minnesota. Last July, a jury awarded more than $20 million to the family of a Maple Grove woman who gave birth at Allina's Abbott Northwestern Hospital in 2013 and then died after she was sent home with an undetected sepsis infection.
Midwife deliveries have increased in the United States in the last decade, including midwifes with no formal medical training and certified nurse midwives who have completed nursing school. Last year, they accounted for just under 13 percent of Minnesota's 69,749 births, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several studies have found that midwife-attended births produce fewer malpractice claims than those attended by physicians, though some argue that is because midwifes concentrate on healthy pregnancies and refer complicated cases to specialists.
In this case, the jury found the nurse-midwife negligent for failing to discuss alternatives such as C-sections. Jurors agreed that a reasonable person might have chosen an alternative if the risks of delivering a large baby vaginally had been explained.