Sirena Samuelson, a Bradford, Minnesota, mother was awarded $8.9 million in a lawsuit alleging that an Allina Health midwife ignored concerns about the size of her baby during her pregnancy and mishandled the labor and delivery. The child, a boy, suffered permanent injuries as a result.
The jury ruled in favor of the mother, whose son suffered a broken right arm and severe nerve damage during his birth on Jan. 22, 2016. After the verdict was announced, Allina indicated it would appeal, so the family agreed to set aside the judgment in their favor and mediate a settlement.
According to court documents, Samuelson indicated during her prenatal care visits that her son felt larger than her first child, but her certified nurse-midwife disagreed and told her the boy would weigh as little as 6 pounds at birth. Owen Oakes-Samuelson was delivered at Allina’s Cambridge Medical Center and weighed 10.5 pounds. This resulted in shoulder dystocia, a complication in one in 150 births in which the baby’s head passes through the birth canal and the shoulders get stuck.
Samuelson’s complaint stated her midwife “grasped the baby’s head with excessive force” and pulled so hard that his arm broke and the nerves controlling his arm motions were torn. An engineer who testified for Samuelson said the force was “seven to eight times the average traction used in a routine delivery.” Allina Health argued during the trial that the midwife acted swiftly when she discovered there would be complications. Dr. Ross Anderson took over the delivery and used a surgical incision called an episiotomy to resolve the issue.
Allina’s chief executive, Dr. Penny Wheeler, said, “From my perspective as an OB-GYN, this is an especially difficult situation for everyone involved because outcomes like this can happen even when a care team does everything it possibly can consistent with the standard of care.” She added that although she did not foresee any policy changes as a result of the case, “we always strive to learn from all clinical situations and continuously find ways to improve the quality of care we provide to our patients.”
The baby boy required intensive care immediately after birth and later underwent two surgeries to repair nerve damage and restore right arum function. He has received physical therapy and Botox injections, and the nerve pain has been so severe he has bitten his own hand in an effort to alleviate it.
Midwife deliveries have increased in the United States in the last decade. In 2017, they accounted for roughly thirteen percent of Minnesota’s 69,749 births, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several studies have found that midwife-attended births produce fewer malpractice claims than those attended by physicians. This could be because complicated cases tend to get referred to specialists.
In Samuelson’s case, the jury found the midwife to have acted negligently in failing to discuss alternative delivery options with the mother, including a C-section. Jurors believed with the plaintiff that a reasonable person might have chosen an alternative if the risks had been properly explained.