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Couple settles malpractice suit for birth injury

A Camdenton couple has reached a $5.1 million settlement in their case against the U.S. government for a birth injury that occurred at a federally funded clinic.

The couple, Jamie and Nathan Searcy, filed suit in 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri seeking damages related to the birth of their daughter, J.S.

They alleged J.S., now 6, was injured when Jamie Searcy’s doctor agreed to a vaginal birth after caesarian, or VBAC, delivery after Jamie had previously had two cesarean-section procedures.

Their attorney, Brett Votava of Votava Nantz & Johnson in Kansas City, said Jamie Searcy was under the care of Dr. Robert Nielsen, an obstetrician at Lake Regional Hospital in Osage Beach.

They brought their claims against the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act because Nielsen’s clinic received federal funding.

Nielsen previously delivered her two first children by C-section in 2006 and 2007 at the same hospital. Nielsen agreed to attempt a VBAC for her third delivery, according to the suit.

Votava said one of the greatest concerns during VBAC births is a uterine rupture, in which the uterus breaks open at the old C-section scar.

On Oct. 10, 2012, Jamie Searcy saw Nielsen for her last prenatal appointment. She was past her due date, and Nielsen decided to admit her to the hospital to induce the delivery by an artificial rupture of membranes. She was admitted on the evening of Oct. 13.

According to Votava, she was induced that evening. The next morning, her labor stalled with her cervix dilated to 4 centimeters, prompting Nielson to augment her labor with Pitocin.

By 9 a.m., fetal monitoring showed negative changes in the baby’s heartbeat. More than 30 minutes later, Jamie Searcy reported abdominal pain. Nielson delivered the baby via C-section after 10 a.m.

During the C-section, Nielsen discovered Jamie Searcy’s abdomen was filled with blood and that she’d had a uterine rupture along a prior C-section scar. The baby was delivered through the ruptured uterus — she was limp, unresponsive, blue-colored and not breathing.

She was transferred by helicopter to the University of Missouri Hospital, where doctors diagnosed her with quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a brain injury. She remained at the hospital for a month.

Votava said J.S. can’t walk, talk, use her arms, stand, sit up or perform any activities of daily living now.

In their suit, the plaintiffs alleged Nielsen should not have proceeded with a VBAC, should not have induced delivery with artificial rupture of membranes, should not have used Pitocin and should have called for a C-section when labor stalled.

Votava said the plaintiffs had a strong case.

“I don’t think causation was disputed,” he said. “Everyone agreed this child was badly injured and badly injured as a result of a uterine rupture. The question was, was it mom’s fault or something a doctor played a role in.”

Votava said the parties reached a resolution in September, but it wasn’t final until Feb. 25. He said the delay was in part due to bureaucracy associated with the Department of Justice, and also partly due to the government shutdown.

The final approval hearing for the settlement was initially set for early January, in the midst of the shutdown.

Votava said the plaintiffs have a separate, related claims in state court in Camden County. He said those claims, against Lake Regional Hospital, relate to nursing care and Nielsen’s medical credentialing.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of Western Missouri declined to comment.

$5.1M Settlement

Federal Tort Claims Act

Injuries: Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy

Venue: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri

Case Number/Date: 2:16-CV-04266/Feb. 25, 2019

Judge: Nanette K. Laughrey

Plaintiff’s Experts: Stephen Glass, Bothell, Washington (Pediatric neurologist); Larry Ellison, Springfield (Accounting, damages, economics); Terry Cordray, Shawnee, Kansas (Vocational); John Mantovani, St. Louis (Pediatric neurologist); Bruce Bryan, St. Louis (Obstetrician); Richard Boyer, Holladay, Utah (Pediatric neuroradiologist); Andrew Robertson, Omaha (Maternal-fetal medicine); Katie Weatherhogg, Windsor, Colorado (Life-care planning)

Defendant’s Experts: James Rohrbaugh, St. Louis (Pediatric neurologist); John Yeast, Kansas City (Maternal-fetal medicine); John Ward, Kansas City (Accounting, damages, economics); Mary D’Alton, New York, New York (Maternal-fetal medicine); Sharron Hughes, St. Louis (Life-care planning); Stephen Day, City of Industry, California (Life expectancy)

Caption: Minor J.S., Jamie Searcy and Nathan Searcy v. United States of America

Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Brett Votava and Todd Johnson, Votava Nantz & Johnson, Kansas City

Defendant’s Attorneys: Charles Thomas, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri, Kansas City; Jennifer Gans, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.