Crime and Justice

Tragic birth at center of lawsuit against Brattleboro Memorial Hospital

The entrance and emergency department of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

A medical malpractice trial involving Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and three of its obstetrics providers is now underway after an almost 18-month pandemic delay.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was originally set to go before a jury in early April 2020, allege that the hospital and the providers failed to uphold the standard of care in a birth that turned fatal. 

On March 23, 2015, two days before she was due to give birth, plaintiff Jessica Mayotte checked into Brattleboro Memorial Hospital after feeling contractions and experiencing bleeding, according to the civil complaint. Her providers measured her contractions and dilation. A nurse discharged Mayotte, who is paraplegic, telling her to return as needed and to keep a March 25 appointment. Mayotte returned to her Brattleboro home and fell asleep. 

“After Jessica woke the next morning she laid in bed for some time and when she removed her blankets to get up was horrified to see that (her newborn son) Michael was laying next to her, and that he appeared lifeless,” the complaint reads.

Michael was rushed to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, where he was soon pronounced dead.

Mayotte, having suffered a spinal cord injury as a teenager, has almost no sensation below her belly button, her lawyer, Dan Sedon, said in his opening statement last week at the Windsor County civil court in Woodstock. 

The trial is being held there, instead of in Windham County civil court in Newfane, to ensure the proceedings are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Mayotte and her husband, Adam, are seeking damages and alleging medical negligence, wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the defendants, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Dr. Ellen Paquin, certified nurse midwife Heather Ferreira and registered nurse Margaret Bonifer. 

Sedon, the Mayottes’ lawyer, described Jessica as a “high risk patient” who was treated collaboratively by the defendants. The Brattleboro hospital had referred Jessica to specialists at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, who determined she had “some sensation” in her lower body and was at risk of blood clots and urinary tract infection. 

But, Sedon argued on Sept. 19, the trial’s first day, “nobody ever explored what exactly (Jessica) could feel, and how exactly she could feel it.”

At the center of the case is whether the treatment Mayotte received at Brattleboro Memorial violated the standard of care. In cases of medical malpractice, the standard of care refers to the minimum quality of treatment a physician, or other medical provider, is reasonably expected to give. 

“This was foreseeable,” Sedon said. “The fatal error … was a lack of judgment, a lack of curiosity.”

In her opening statement, defense attorney Alex Nelson argued that the death of Michael Mayotte was an awful example of the “unpredictability of medicine.”

“What happened to Jessica and Adam Mayotte is a terrible tragedy,” Nelson said. “This is just one of those horrible outcomes that happens when everybody does their job correctly.”

Nelson argued that because of the location of Mayotte’s spinal injury, providers believed she’d feel the sensations of labor.

The specialist Brattleboro Hospital referred Mayotte to, Dr. Emily Baker at Dartmouth Hitchcock, had expertise in paraplegic pregnancies, so there was strong reason to trust her advice, Nelson outlined.

According to Nelson, Dartmouth Hitchcock staff wrote it was “very likely” Mayotte would feel contractions and present for labor. That Mayotte ultimately did not feel her contractions in her sleep was unexpected, she said.

The jury trial before Superior Court Judge Katherine Hayes is scheduled to continue in Woodstock next week.

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Ethan Weinstein

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