A Cook County, Ill., circuit court jury Nov. 22 awarded $15.5 million to a man whose wife died while in childbirth due to alleged medical negligence by two specialists.
Mukundini Mehta, an Indian American obstetrician-gynecologist at MacNeal Hospital, in Berwyn, Ill., and Mahmoud Ismail, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the University of Chicago, were blamed for the death of Karen Lopez, a 33-year-old schoolteacher who died in 2008 while giving birth to her second baby, who survived.
The lawsuit was filed by Karen’s husband, Carlos Lopez, against the University of Chicago Hospital, MacNeal Hospital, Mehta and Ismail. Mehta had also delivered the couple’s first child, who was two at the time of his mother’s death.
Attorney Keith Hebeisen, who represented Lopez, told India-West, “I am very happy for the Lopez family and what this jury has done for them."
A jury deliberated for less than six hours before reaching the third highest verdict for wrongful death in a medical malpractice case in Cook County history, according to the Jury Verdict Recorder.
Hebeisen said Ismail – who attended medical school at the University of Cairo in Egypt – had failed to correctly read an ultrasound two months before Lopez was due that showed that her placenta was growing through her uterine wall, an anomaly known as “placenta accreta.”
Placenta accreta causes a huge amount of bleeding when the birth occurs, but no intervention can take place until delivery, according to Hebeisen, who stated that Ismail did not record this possibly-fatal abnormality on his report.
Mehta — who attended MP Shah Medical College at Saurashtra University in Gujarat and did her residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago — should have done a second ultrasound before Lopez’s C-section, stated Hebeisen, adding that she should have ordered extra IVs and extra blood supplies. She started to do a hysterectomy on Lopez before the copious bleeding was stopped and before other doctors arrived.
Lopez delivered prematurely at 34 weeks. Had the correct procedures taken place, Hebeisen stated she would have survived.
“Women who suffer from the medical condition called placenta accreta usually will not die if it is detected and managed properly,” Hebeisen said in a press statement. “These doctors were negligent in not following through on information they had. They completely ignored the clear signs that this young mother was in grave trouble and the jury saw that,” he added.
Placenta accreta occurs in 1 out of every 533 pregnancies, according to a 2012 report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Women most at risk are those who have had a previous C-section. Because of the risk of fatality, women suffering from placenta accreta during delivery should be treated by a team of surgical specialists, including urologists, general surgeons, and gynecologic oncologists, recommended the report, adding that extra attention should be paid to hemoglobin levels in advance of the C-section surgery.
The University of Chicago issued a statement shortly after the verdict, mitigating their hospital’s role in Lopez’s death.
“We have great sympathy for this family, but we respectfully disagree with the jury’s decision and are reviewing our options,” said spokeswoman Lorna Wong in a press statement.
“One media report indicated that the birth of the child that led to the death of the mother occurred at the University of Chicago Medicine. That is not correct,” stated Wong. “This mother’s death and the delivery of the baby occurred at MacNeal Hospital in February 2008. The University of Chicago Medicine physician involved in the case saw the mother for evaluation of preterm labor in December 2007,” she said.