A jury in Georgia is beginning to hear arguments in a medical malpractice lawsuit that alleges that a pregnant woman's blindness was a result of negligence on the part of her doctors. In April 2008, Brooke Wood called Dr. Jolene Montano's office complaining of a severe headache and an inability to urinate. Her call was answered by an employee at the office who was not a doctor, nurse, or physician's assistant, but who diagnosed an infection and called in a prescription for an antibiotic. When her condition worsened, Wood went to the emergency room where she was seen by Dr. Jennifer Bartley, the doctor on call for Dr. Montano. Dr. Bartley ordered a test for preeclampsia along medication to regulate Wood's blood pressure. By the time Wood's daughter was delivered by emergency cesarean section the next day, Wood had suffered complete vision loss.
Preeclampsia is a condition that can develop after the twentieth week of pregnancy involving a high blood pressure in women who had normal blood pressure before pregnancy, along with other potential signs and symptoms. It is a potentially deadly condition and the second-leading cause of maternal death in the United States. Emergency delivery is the best option with this diagnosis, but is not always possible if the baby is still maturing.
The plaintiffs' medical malpractice attorney is arguing that Dr. Montano should have informed Brooke Wood about the possibilities of developing preeclampsia from the beginning of her prenatal care and advised her about her options. The attorney has argued this is especially true after Wood showed significant weight gain, swelling, and higher blood pressure late in her pregnancy. While Wood has regained vision in one eye, vision loss in the other eye affects her ability to perform common activities and resulted in lost income as she can only work part-time, her attorney says.
Attorneys for Dr. Montano and Dr. Bartley maintain that the physicians followed the standard of care and cannot be held responsible for Wood's vision loss. Because Wood was only 36 weeks pregnant at her ER visit, Dr. Bartley determined it was too early to automatically opt for emergency delivery, her attorney says. The doctors' lawyers also argue that Wood did not show symptoms that would have alerted the doctors to any potential danger and there was no proof Wood had preeclampsia until lab results came back two hours before the emergency C-section.
Ultimately, the jury will be asked to determine two key questions before considering damages. First, did either of the defendant doctors deviate from the standard of care by allegedly failing to advise the Plaintiff about the risk of preeclampsia and inform her of her options? Second, if there was a deviation, did this deviation ultimately lead to her vision loss? Only if the answer to both of these questions is yes will the jury move on to the topic of damages. If the jury determines either doctor should have diagnosed preeclampsia sooner or at least discussed the possibility with plaintiff, this may be enough to establish deviation. The defense that plaintiff's 36 weeks gestation did not automatically require a delivery seems like a red hearing. The issue is not whether delivery was automatically required at 36 weeks. Instead, the issue is whether this option should have been offered to the plaintiff. However, these and other issues will ultimately be decided by the jury.
The Augusta Chronicle, "Jury picked in malpractice trial" 3-4-13