$1.2 Million Recovery for Failure to Perform Autopsy

After learning that their unborn daughter would not survive following a pregnancy complicated by fetal hydrops, an Ocean County couple requested that an autopsy be performed to help determine the cause. This information would have allowed them to know for purposes of future pregnancies the potential cause of the hydrops should it occur again, and, would have provided important information about how they could best manage or continue the pregnancy. Unfortunately, despite signing the proper authorizations, the hospital did not complete the autopsy.

Subsequently, the couple again became pregnant and the prenatal period was complicated by fetal hydrops. Not knowing the cause, they proceeded with the pregnancy, and, after signs of a non-reassuring fetal heart pattern, the baby was delivered early. Testing determined that the cause of the hydrops was an absent thoracic lymph duct. This problem resulted in a significant feeding disorder – an inability of the newborn to digest certain foods properly.

After approximately three years of treatment, the child’s feeding issues improved, but she was left with residual, but improving, developmental delays resulting from her nutritional status, prematurity and lengthy initial hospital stay. Similarly, the parents experienced emotional distress as a result of the failure to perform the initial autopsy, and, as a result of contending with their daughter’s medical setbacks.

The hospital that failed to perform the autopsy settled with the family for $1.2 million but contended that an autopsy on the first child would not likely have revealed an absent thoracic lymph duct, and, that after her initial feeding difficulties the girls prognosis neurologically and in terms of her feeding issues is very favorable.

Michael B. Zerres