MD Fails to Spot Tubal Pregnancy During Abortion

A physician violated the standard of care in failing to diagnose a patient’s ectopic pregnancy, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled.

The physician performed an abortion on the patient using a vacuum procedure. Afterward, the patient noticed that she felt different from the way she had felt after a previous abortion. She still had the morning sickness and cramping and spotting. After four days she dialed the number that had been given to her at the clinic. She was told that a nurse was not available to talk to her and that her symptoms were normal.

After four more days, she again called the number, with the same results. After the second call, she fainted and was taken to a hospital in an ambulance. She underwent emergency life-saving exploratory surgery that revealed a tubal pregnancy.

The patient sued the physician for malpractice, alleging negligence in performance of the abortion, in failure to advise her of the risk of the procedure, failure to provide post operative care, failure to use the degree of required skill and care, failure to inform her of the dangers of an ectopic pregnancy, and failure to diagnose the ectopic pregnancy. The trial court rendered judgement for the physician. On appeal, the court said that the trial court had either erroneously made findings of facts on the controverted issues.

Finally, reports after the emergency surgery confirmed the existence of an ectopic pregnancy that had ruptured. The surgeon who performed the emergency operation stated the opinion that the physician did not comply with his duty to terminate the pregnancy, and did not exercise enough diagnostic care. He said no pathologist would have missed finding a 6-week old fetus, because microscopic as the physician stated. Finding there would have been at least a scintilla of evidence as to each element of negligence alleged, the court reversed the lower court’s judgment and sent the case back for further proceedings.