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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don DeVries, Kelly Iverson and Nichole Nesbitt won a summary judgment on behalf of Washington Hospital Center and one of its physicians in a multi-million dollar medical malpractice case in the District of Columbia. In a case where plaintiff’s representative claimed that a baby’s severe neurologic injuries resulted from a physician consultants bad advice concerning the baby’s mother’s attempt to have a vaginal birth after having two previous cesarean section deliveries.

Plaintiff sued the midwives who provided the mother’s prenatal care and a physician with whom one of the midwives consulted prior to delivery.

The plaintiffs contended that the physician owed a duty to the mother to instruct the midwives and, if necessary, the patient herself, that she was not an appropriate candidate for a vaginal delivery. The defense argued that a brief consultation between the consulting physician and the treating midwife did not give rise to a duty to the mother because the physician never treated, evaluated, spoke with, saw, or met the mother; he only provided advice – which the midwives were free to accept or reject – during a less than 10-minute discussion with the midwives.
The Court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, holding that the consulting physician’s “isolated and non-binding consultation” failed to give rise to a duty on his part to the mother. Importantly, the Court also expressed concern over the negative impact on public policy that would result from the imposition of a legal duty in this situation. In the District of Columbia, midwives are independent practitioners who are permitted to provide care for pregnant women without the supervision of a doctor. The Court held that, under those circumstances, “encouraging the nurse-midwives to consult with obstetrics professionals is in the public interest. Conversely, extending liability to such consultations, without more, contradicts that interest.”

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