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Court finds issues with fetal monitoring prior to stillbirth. Harwood v. Halfon, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 30187 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2023)


In Harwood v. Halfon, 2023 N.Y. Slip Op. 30187 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2023), the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice case The New York Presbyterian Hospital and two of its doctors related to the care provided during a pregnancy that tragically ended in a stillbirth. The plaintiff asserted that negligent actions and decisions by the medical staff led directly to the loss of their baby.

Background Facts
Annette Harwood, a 31-year-old who had previously suffered a miscarriage, began prenatal care under Dr. Perera in January 2019. Her pregnancy was closely monitored through several sonograms showing normal fetal development. On July 30, 2019, a sonogram revealed a breech presentation. On August 5, Dr. Perera attempted an external cephalic version (ECV) to correct the fetus’s position, which was unsuccessful.

An ECV is a medical procedure used to turn a fetus from a breech position (feet or buttocks first) or sideways (transverse) position into a head-down (vertex) position before labor begins. The goal is to enable a safer vaginal delivery. During an ECV, a doctor applies pressure to the mother’s abdomen to manually rotate the baby.

Subsequently, fetal monitoring indicated normal conditions until August 13, when Harwood noted decreased fetal movements. During a visit on August 14 with Dr. Halfon, while Dr. Perera was on vacation, concerns regarding the fetal movements were discussed, and a biophysical profile was scheduled for the next day. Unfortunately, the profile on August 15 confirmed fetal demise.

Harwood file a medical malpractice lawsuit claiming that the medical staff, specifically Dr. Perera and Dr. Halfon, failed to provide adequate care which she argued directly contributed to the stillbirth. Specifically, Harwood alleged that Dr. Perera improperly attempted an external cephalic version which might have contributed to the fetal demise, and Dr. Halfon failed to promptly order necessary diagnostic tests when Harwood reported decreased fetal movements. These alleged medical failings, according to Harwood, led to the tragic outcome of her pregnancy. The defendants responded to the lawsuit by filing a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the claims against them.

Whether the actions of Dr. Halfon, specifically her decision to delay the biophysical profile test, directly contributed to the fetal demise. The plaintiffs argued that the delay in testing failed to detect critical distress signs in the fetus which, if addressed sooner, might have prevented the stillbirth.

The court granted summary judgment dismissing several claims but left key allegations against Dr. Halfon and the hospital concerning negligence and emotional distress unresolved, indicating these required further examination at trial.

The court found sufficient grounds to dismiss the claims against Dr. Perera and for negligent training and supervision, as well as the lack of informed consent against the New York Presbyterian Hospital. This part of the judgment was based on the absence of a direct link between Dr. Perera’s actions and the fetal demise, and the duplicative nature of the claims regarding hospital supervision.

However, the claims against Dr. Halfon and the hospital for negligence and emotional distress were not dismissed, reflecting the court’s determination that there were unresolved issues requiring a jury’s evaluation. Specifically, the court noted discrepancies in testimonies regarding the fetal movements and the timing of necessary medical tests, which could imply a deviation from accepted medical standards by Dr. Halfon. These unresolved factual disputes about whether Dr. Halfon’s actions were appropriate under the circumstances, particularly her decision on when to conduct a biophysical profile, necessitated further exploration at trial to determine if her actions contributed to the tragic outcome of the stillbirth

If you or someone you know has experienced complications during pregnancy or childbirth due to potential medical negligence, immediately speak with a skilled New York birth injury lawyer who can offer guidance and help protect your rights. A knowledgeable attorney can assist in assessing the details of your case, determining potential claims, and ensuring that crucial evidence is preserved. They can also provide representation in court, advocating for the compensation and justice you deserve.
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