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Harford jury awards $513K for missed diagnosis

A Harford County jury has awarded $513,129 to a woman whose undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy led to the loss of a Fallopian tube.

Cheryl Schenck had been suffering from heavy vaginal bleeding, cramping and clotting for 11 days when she sought help from certified nurse midwife Janice Emerling, an employee of Susquehanna Obstetrics & Gynecology in Bel Air on April 11, 2011. Emerling did not perform a physical examination, consult with a physician or conduct a pregnancy test before diagnosing Schenck and doubling her birth-control medication, according to trial testimony.

Emerling re-evaluated Schenck, on April 18, 2011, but again ordered no pregnancy test.

Four days later, Schenck, an Army specialist, was rushed from her Aberdeen barracks to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, where she had an emergency surgery to remove her burst Fallopian tube.

She filed suit in Harford County Circuit Court on June 29, 2012.

During the four-day trial that ended Thursday, Schenck’s attorney, Daniel M. Clements, presented medical testimony that Emerling’s treatment method deviated from the standard of care, which required that a pregnancy test be conducted on Schenck, a 27-year-old woman who said she was sexually active.

Counsel for Susquehanna Obstetrics & Gynecology countered with expert testimony that it was reasonable for Emerling to conclude Schenck was not pregnant but suffering from “breakthrough bleeding,” which is a common side effect of oral contraceptives.

Attorneys for the medical practice did not return telephone messages seeking comment. It was represented at trial by Trace G. Krueger of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones P.A. in Baltimore.

Clements said Schenck was an effective witness, as she testified to the physical and emotional pain she endured before and after losing her Fallopian tube and the resulting difficulty she and her husband have had in trying to conceive a child over the past year.

The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before returning with its medical-malpractice verdict and awards of $500,000 for Schenck’s pain and suffering and $13,129 for her past medical expenses. The amount is less than Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages.

“A jury verdict of this nature is a reminder to the medical community, no matter what jurisdiction, that they will be held responsible for unnecessary injuries that they cause, be they nurse midwives or doctors,” Clements said.

Historically, Harford County juries have been perceived as reticent to find for plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases, Clements said. That perception might have contributed to the collapse of settlement negotiations with opposing counsel, he added.

“The defendants presumed that they would be protected by the Harford County history of virtually always finding for the health care providers,” said Clements, of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore. “A strong case and a good plaintiff can win in any jurisdiction.”

CHERYL SCHENCK V. SUSQUEHANNA OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY

Court:

Harford County Circuit Court

Case No.:

12C12001775

Judge:

Stephen M. Waldron

Outcome:

Jury Verdict for Plaintiff ($513,129 in damages)

Dates:

Event: April 2011

Suit filed: June 29, 2012

Trial: July 15-18, 2013

Jury Verdict: July 18, 2013

Plaintiff’s’ Attorney:

Daniel M. Clements of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore.

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Trace G. Krueger of Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones P.A. in Baltimore.

Count:

Negligence (medical malpractice).