Malpractice Case Leads to $4,400,000 Jury Award After Nurse Trainee Missed Fetal Distress


No one is born a great physician or a great nurse. They need to learn and then practice on actual patients. But people want a safety net in case the physicians or nurse in training make a mistake. We further expect, though, that they will be carefully supervised and their work will be reviewed by a competent, experienced doctor or nurse. Patients do not typically think about this as they expect that the physician treating them is thoroughly proficient. That safety net comes in the form of supervision by experienced physicians and nurses.

While in the training stages new physicians and nurses have to realize what they can and cannot do. The senior physicians and nurses who supervise those who are in training must also understand that those in training have not yet fully achieved the knowledge and skills required to act on their own. If hey do not realizing this, the level of supervision will be inadequate and can lead to mistakes. And with a lack of proper supervision these mistakes will not be caught and remedied resulting in devastating consequences.

Consider a case that was reported which involved a near full-term expectant mother. She was almost at full term. The woman took herself to a hospital following persistent nausea and vomiting. On admission a nurse trainee examined her and monitored her condition. The nurse trainee read the results as normal, concluding that the baby was doing well and in no danger, even though they in fact demonstrated signs of severe fetal distress, a situation which calls for immediate attention. The woman was discharged home not knowing that her baby was suffering from a lack of oxygen..

Three days later the baby was delivered as planned. Although the child lived she had serious brain damage. She developed cerebral palsy. She had persistent seizures. The little girl spent the following four years of her life with recurring seizures, having to go through therapy and had to be fed through a feeding tube as she could not eat on her own, before dying due to complications from her cerebral palsy. She was survived by her father and mother and by her 11 and 16 year old brothers. The law firm that handled this matter on behalf of the family reported that the case went to trial and that the jury awarded the parents $4.4 million.

This case demonstrates the danger involved in allowing a nurse trainee to diagnose patients without supervision from a physician or a registered supervising nurse. An experienced physician or nurse, while also capable of making such a mistake, is much less likely to do so. An experienced physician or obstetrics nurses will probably have seen hundreds or even thousands of fetal heart rate monitor strips and developed the ability to tell when it indicates an abnormal pattern that needs immediate attention. A mistake by a nurse trainee and the failure to effectively supervise the nurse trainee, as in the case above, may lead to a medical malpractice claim.