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Court refuses summary disposition of brachial plexus-shoulder dystocia claim

Marilyn Clemons sued Roderick Cairgle, M.D. and Sinai Hospital on behalf of her son, Miles, alleging that Cairgle's negligence resulted in a birth injury and permanent paralysis of Miles's arm.  She claimed that Miles's delivery had been temporarily obstructed when his shoulder hung-up on the pubic bone (this is called shoulder dystocia) and that Cairgle permanently injured Miles's shoulder by applying excessive force to manipulate his shoulder through the birth canal.  She also argued that Cairgle should have delivered Miles by C-section once he recognized the  occurrence of shoulder dystocia, however, Cairgle denied that a shoulder dystocia even occurred.  The Defendants persuaded the trial court to grant partial summary disposition on the C-section claim, based on the argument that the Clemons' attorneys had not proved that a shoulder dystocia had actually occurred.

The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary disposition and sent the case back to the trial court to be tried on both liability theories (that is, failure to offer a C-section and use of excessive force or traction during the delivery).  The Court noted that the medical profession recognizes different definitions of shoulder dystocia, and it rejected the Defendants' argument that Plaintiff's experts could not prove their case by disputing the delivery doctor's failure to diagnose shoulder dystocia.

The Defendants attempted to suggest that the plaintiffs were precluded, by law, from proving their case if to do so they were required to disparage Cairgle's power of observation.  In other words, they sought to make Cairgle's opinion about whether a dystocia had occurred the final say in the matter and unimpeachable.  The Court concluded that the Clemons family presented sufficient evidence, in the form of medical literature and expert physician specialist testimony, to raise a question of fact with regard to whether a shoulder dystocia had occurred, causing the child's permanent injury.  The Defendant's analysis of his own conduct in supervising the birth would be weighed against the scientific and expert testimony marshalled by the family, and Cairgle's assessment would not be conclusive.

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