Was Queensland hospital negligent in $20m cerebral palsy case?

Published 23 Oct 2018

A woman who believes she received negligent treatment from an obstetrician at the Mater Mothers’ Private Hospital in Brisbane has launched a $20 million liability claim after her son was born with cerebral palsy.

Petrea Aslett, 43, was 30 weeks pregnant when she went to the hospital in March 2012 complaining of irregular pelvic and stomach pain. Her claim states her and her baby’s vital signs were checked, but she was not given a vaginal examination and no urine test was conducted, ABC News reports.

An on-call midwife allegedly phoned Ms Aslett’s obstetrician, who came to the conclusion during or after the call that the patient was going into early labour. The doctor prescribed penicillin and Nifedipine – a drug used to manage premature labour and other conditions.

Why was a negligence claim filed?

Ms Aslett claims her obstetrician, upon arriving at the hospital, asked about her symptoms and pain levels. However, she was allegedly not given a physical assessment, including abdominal or vaginal examinations.

According to the plaintiff, midwives gave her intravenous benzylpenicillin and she quickly went into anaphylactic shock with cardiovascular collapse. After failed attempts to stabilise her and the baby, doctors performed an emergency caesarean section.

The medical negligence claim states her son, Hudson, was born weighing just 1,790 grams. He also allegedly suffered brain damage, birth asphyxia, and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, which led to cerebral palsy.

People with cerebral palsy suffer a range of symptoms, including developmental delays, weak arms and legs, uncontrolled movements and vision and speaking problems.

Vaginal exam ‘part and parcel’ of diagnosis

An obstetrician working in the Greater Brisbane region told ABC News that vaginal examinations are essential for diagnosing early births.

“If I had a similar patient I would start with vital signs, including pulse, blood pressure, temperature, a full abdominal examination, foetal surveillance and then – with verbal consent – go for internal examination, so it is part and parcel of diagnosing preterm labour,” the unnamed source said.

“The symptoms described were irregular tightening. She didn’t have any ongoing, regular contractions, she didn’t have any vaginal bleeding or show any sign of the cervix opening up and having that bleeding or spotting or leaking of any fluid.”

Ms Aslett is claiming her doctor was negligent in failing to perform a vaginal examination, which would have determined if she really was in preterm labour. She is seeking $20 million for Hudson’s care, while also pursuing a $2 million claim for her own economic and non-economic losses.

Will the plaintiff succeed?

Medical negligence claims are among the most challenging personal injury cases to win. Doctors are highly trained professionals and the nature of their job means they must regularly treat people who are at risk of injury or death.

The Civil Liability Act 2003 states that doctors are not negligent if they acted in a way that is widely accepted by peers within their field as competent professional practice.

However, given that vaginal examinations are considered standard procedure for preterm labour diagnoses, Ms Aslett’s medical negligence claim may well succeed. But only time will tell whether this turns out to be the case.

Do you feel a doctor was negligent in your treatment? Contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers on 1800 004 878 to find out how we can help.

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