In late June, a medical malpractice trial against Johns Hopkins was decided by a jury to the tune of $55 million dollars. Because of Maryland law limiting what are called “non-economic damages” (pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, disfigurement, incapacity, etc…), that verdict will be cut by more than half, to $29.6 million.
That was a case about a birth injury. The allegations, simply stated, were that Johns Hopkins was negligent in treating a woman who presented in labor. Her child was not timely delivered, and should have been delivered earlier by emergency cesarean section. Because of the delay, the child was deprived of oxygen, and suffered brain damage. Because of that delay, the child now has irreversible brain injury and will suffer developmental delays.
Part of the backstory behind Hopkins’ failures was the failure of a midwife named Evelyn Muhlhan. Hopkins tried to blame Ms. Muhlhan for the babies injuries, arguing that Muhlhan was negligent when the mother tried the home birth option, well before Muhlhan handed them off to an ambulance to go to Hopkins. Indeed, the evidence seems clear that Muhlhan was negligent. This is a laundry list of the things she did wrong:
That evidence was excluded by the judge, because any negligence by the midwife was irrelevant to deciding whether Hopkins was negligent. The jury may have had evidence to determine whether the baby was injured before arriving at the hospital, but the jury need not decide the cause of any supposed prior injury. And here, after hearing the evidence, the jury decided that the injury was caused by Hopkins, in the last few minutes before delivery.
Muhlhan, like midwifery generally, is one of those polarizing forces. You love her or you hate her. Muhlhan has rabid fans—because of the Hopkins incident, in conjunction with other deviations from the standard of care (including one death during a birth, and three other situations), a website has been created to help her contest the suspension of her certified nurse midwife license and her registered nurse license. By some accounts (here and here), Ms. Muhlhan has left a path of destruction in her years as a midwife.
Expectant parents who want a midwife-led or homebirth should have it, if it is safe. Those parents depend on their doctors and midwives to let them know if it can be done safely. If the birth is high risk, or if there are problems, then the birth should be done in a hospital with access to emergency equipment. The birth process is important, but the most important thing is the health of the baby.
If your baby was injured during a hospital or midwife delivery, contact our birth injury lawyers at 443.850.4426, or online for a no-charge consultation. We can help you find out whether your doctors or midwives acted appropriately, or whether they caused your child’s injury. For more information, see our Birth Injury Malpractice page.