The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed a Court of Appeals decision upholding a Ford County jury verdict finding no fault on the part of a Dodge City nurse in the permanent injury of a newborn baby. Western Plains Medical Complex was also found not at fault.
The appellants in the case were Tom Bates and Michelle Entriken, who, according to a court syllabus, alleged obstetrical nurse Linda Unruh breached the standard of care in delivering their daughter Haley Bates and subsequently caused permanent injury to the infant. Bates and Entriken sued Unruh's employer, Dodge City Healthcare Group L.P. under a common-law-doctrine that makes an employer liable for the actions of an employee when the actions take place within the scope of employment.
According to a syllabus produced by the court, Entriken was admitted to Western Plains Medical Complex Dec. 20, 1996, in preterm labor. She was between 34 and 35 weeks pregnant. Unruh, who had been a labor and delivery nurse for 33 years, was in charge of her care.
Just over an hour after Entriken was admitted, prolonged deceleration to the fetal heart rate began. According to evidence presented in court, deceleration can cause insufficient bloodflow to the fetus' brain, which in turn compromises the fetus' oxygen supply.
Unruh contacted Entriken's obstetrician, Dr. Anupong Chotimongkol, and asked him to come to the hospital. She testified that, in her past experience, Chotimongkol responded promptly when asked to come to the hospital. But, he did not arrive for nearly 30 minutes.
When he did arrive, he ordered an immediate C-section be performed.
Bates and Entriken's daughter Hayley did not breathe during her first five minutes after birth. She was flown to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where she spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit. Hayley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Bates and Entriken, along with expert witnesses alleged that, since Unruh did not seek another doctor when Chotimongkol did not promptly arrive, she breached the standard of care and did not activate her medical chain of command.
A witness for the defense testified that, while basic nursing standards must be upheld regardless of location, "we cannot expect certain things to be the same in a very small world hospital as compared to a large city hospital." The defense argued the notion that if the chain of command had been initiated, another physician could have been brought in immeadiately was not possible.
The jury agreed unanimously and ruled the hospital was not vicariously at fault. And although Dr. Chotimongkol was not a defendant, he too was cleared for comparative fault purposes.
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