Appeal Begins On Malpractice Ruling In Death Of Baby

May 19, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Testimony is set to begin this morning in a Westminster doctor's appeal of a decision by the state's malpractice court that he didn't do enough to save a baby boy who died shortly after birth in 1986.

InJuly, a three-member Maryland Health Arbitration Board found Dr. Karl Green negligent in his care of Brett Morris, the infant son of Robert and Barbara Morris of Westminster. The panel awarded the Morrises $550,000 in damages.

Carroll County General Hospital also was named in the original suit, but was not found liable by the malpractice panel.

Green, a county pediatrician for more than 20 years, is appealing the decision in Carroll Circuit Court.

A 12-member jury with two alternates was chosen Friday to hear the appeal, which is expected to last at least two weeks.

After the jury was dismissed at 3:30 p.m. by Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold, the judge closed the courtroom so the testimony of a witness for the Morrises could be videotaped.

Arnold said the witness is scheduled to go to Switzerland today, and his testimonywill be played for the jury this week.

Brett Morris was born at Carroll County General at 10 a.m. Sept. 21, 1986.

He weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces, but had breathing problems, court records show.

The baby died 19 hours later, before his parents had a chance to hold him.

The panel voted, 2-1, on July 2, 1990 to find Green negligent after a seven-day hearing in Sykesville. For malpractice cases, the claims office randomly drafts one lawyer, one physician and one member of the public to act as a jury.

Decisions of the court can be appealed to the Circuit Court.

The Morrises and their attorney, LaVonnaVice of Baltimore, charged that Green failed to follow standard procedures of care for a baby suffering from acute breathing problems.

Vice said Green did not give the baby enough oxygen, that he misreada chest X-ray and that he wrongly allowed the baby to be fed formula.

The attorney said the medical examiner's report showed the baby had "pneumomediastynum," a condition in which air collects outside the lungs, creating pressure and breathing difficulty.

Green and hisattorney, Michael Baxter of Baltimore, dispute that contention and claim the baby died of "persistent fetal circulation," in which the baby has difficulty adjusting to breathing outside of the womb.

The prognosis for babies with pneumomediastynum is very poor, but can be treated with oxygen and inserting a needle into the baby's chest to remove the air outside the lungs. Those procedures were not done, the Morrises' suit maintains.

Fifteen minutes after Brett Morris was born, his respiratory problems became evident and he was admitted to the hospital nursery.

The baby was blue and was grunting and flaring his nostrils, a sign that he was trying desperately to get more oxygen, the lawsuit claims.

Green ordered oxygen, X-rays and formula feedings for the baby, then left the hospital about 45 minutes later.

During the malpractice panel hearing, a nurse testified that she called Green at 2:30 p.m. to tell him that the baby appeared to be getting worse. Another nurse confirmed the call, but Green said he never received it.

At 10:30 p.m., the Morrises were told Brett was getting better and that Barbara Morris could nurse the baby the next day, the suit claims.

But the baby's condition worsened and he becamebluer after 11 p.m. Though the nurses had been instructed by Green to wean the baby off oxygen, they turned it on to 24 percent, which islittle more than the oxygen level in room air.

After another callfrom a nurse at 2:20 a.m. Sept. 22, Green went to the hospital. The suit claims the doctor then should have increased the oxygen to 100 percent, but didn't until 3:30 a.m.

At 5 a.m., the baby's heart stopped beating.

The Morrises originally sought damages of $1 millionin the case.

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