(CN) – A federal judge upheld a $200,000 damages award to a Maine woman who miscarried and delivered her dead baby on her own bathroom floor after a hospital discharged her against her will.
The District of Maine rejected Eastern Maine Medical Center’s arguments against the jury award in favor of Lorraine Morin, and it declined to grant the hospital a new trial.
After experiencing contractions in the early hours of July 1, 2007, a 16-week-pregnant Morin went to the emergency room from her Millinocket home, more than an hour away, with her boyfriend, Roger. The couple married the following year.
When it became apparent that the fetus did not have a heartbeat, ER doctor Paul Reinstein told her that the hospital could do nothing to help her and sent her home.
Her complaint alleged that Roger asked what they should do with the remains of the baby and was told “just dispose of it.” When Roger became upset, Reinstein then threatened to call security and ejected the couple, the plaintiff claimed.
Once home, Morin locked herself in her bathroom and gave birth to her dead son later that evening.
Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) first challenged the award on the basis that federal law permitted it to treat Morin with less care than a woman carrying a live baby.
But U.S. District Judge John Woodcock said that was “morally questionable” as well as “legally wrong” under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.
The judge referenced the District Court’s previous order, which noted that lawmakers who crafted the law did not intend “such a harsh and callous result” against women with nonviable fetuses.
Woodcock also threw out the hospital’s claim that an on-duty nurse’s testimony was inadmissible.
“It was a jury question whether Nurse [Annette] O’Brien was less or more persuasive than the EMMC’s three physician experts,” the judge said, adding that “nurses are nursing experts, not physician experts, but this limitation goes to weight, not admissibility.”
The judge noted the doctors’ decision to discharge Morin effectively consigned her to miscarry at home because of the distance between the emergency room in Bangor and Morin’s residence in Millinocket.
“Simple math compels the conclusion that if she miscarried within two hours of discharge, there was not enough time to return to Millinocket and get back to the EMMC,” Woodcock said.
“The jury was fully capable of applying the time frames of the doctors’ testimony to the time-distance from EMMC to Ms. Morin’s home in Millinocket and back to EMMC,” he continued. “It was also capable of finding that EMMC had discharged Ms. Morin while she was still having contractions, before she had delivered the fetus, and with a risk to her health and safety.”
While the court upheld the damages award, it denied Morin’s request for a court order that would change Eastern Maine hospital policies to protect in-labor women.
The court found the request too general and said that it could only entertain a remedy for a personal harm.