On January 30, 2017, an Ohio family was awarded $14.5 million to compensate their child for severe birth injuries, which led to the development of cerebral palsy. After a two-week trial, a federal jury in Pennsylvania concluded that obstetrician Thomas Carnevale and a staff of nurses at Penn Highlands Clearfield Hospital had been negligent in managing the birth of a baby boy.

Jury Finds Excessive Pitocin Led To Boy’s Birth Injuries

As the parents claimed in their birth injury lawsuit, Dr. Carnevale and his birth team had administered a drug called Pitocin to the mother. The synthetic hormone, a brand-name version of the chemical oxytocin, is often used to induce or accelerate labor, but can pose significant risks without careful management.

Excessive Pitocin Infographic

Most hospitals utilize strict protocols to regulate the use of Pitocin. Penn Highlands Hospital, in particular, prohibits the drug’s use after women are dilating, having strong contractions or have begun to make progress in labor, the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat reports.

Despite these hospital-wide safety procedures, the parents, who lived in Pennsylvania at the time of their child’s birth, accused Dr. Carnevale of failing to discontinue the use of Pitocin after a fetal heart rate monitor had shown that their child was being deprived of oxygen. In fact, attorneys for the family argued that the obstetrician’s use of Pitocin had accelerated the rate of labor so much that the child was left without any time to recover between contractions.

Oxygen deprivation and asphyxiation occurred as a tragic consequence.

Brain Injuries & Cerebral Palsy

The boy was delivered spontaneously, but required “advanced” resuscitation and intubation only five minutes after his birth, court documents show. Within hours, the child was transported to Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital, where he was quickly diagnosed with severe hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, a form of brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation during birth.

Doctors in Pittsburgh administered therapeutic cooling, intentionally lowering the child’s body temperature in an attempt to limit the extent of brain damage. After being discharged, the boy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Now 4 years old, he is unable to walk, talk or sit up on his own, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.

The family’s award includes $3 million to compensate for past and future pain and suffering as well as lost potential earnings, while the majority of the judgment, around $11.5 million, is intended to fund the boy’s future medical expenses. Federal court employees say the $14.5 million judgement is likely the largest ever awarded in the Western Pennsylvania District Court. The case was presided over by the Honorable Kim R. Gibson. Originally filed on July 16, 2014, the medical malpractice lawsuit was logged as number 3:14-cv-00149-KRG in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

What Is Pitocin?

Oxytocin is a naturally-produced hormone crucial to childbirth. Before birth, the hormone is secreted to assist with cervical dilation. It also plays a role in later stages of delivery, causing contractions during the second and third stages of labor. In cases of slow-progressing childbirth, a drug derived from oxytocin, known most commonly as Pitocin, can be administered to begin or speed up contractions. The drug is administered by injection, either into a muscle or vein.

In certain circumstances, the artificial induction of labor is a life-saving necessity, both for mother and child. However, without careful and continual monitoring, Pitocin can induce too many contractions, the Mayo Clinic reports. Excessive contractions can, in turn, lower the amount of oxygen that reaches an unborn child, decrease the fetal heart rate and ultimately lead to oxygen deprivation.

Induced Labor Statistics Infographic

In 2010, nearly 24% of births were induced, a near-doubling in the rate of induced labor from twenty years earlier, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.