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'Midwife settles suit for $730,000'



Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The Concord midwife who last year surrendered her state license to practice has settled a lawsuit for $730,000 with the family of a child who suffered severe brain injury during her birth.

Jeanne Browne has also settled a second lawsuit with a woman who underwent a hysterectomy after developing an infection while in Browne's care. The terms of that agreement, which was finalized in June, have not been made public.

Browne's settlement with Sarah and Jonathan Sadowski of Concord, whose daughter was hospitalized for 21 days after her birth in January 2009 and has cerebral palsy, was finalized last week and is described in court filings, since a judge must approve settlements reached on behalf of a minor.

As part of the settlement, about $386,000 will be placed in a trust for the couple's daughter, allowing her to remain eligible for Medicaid. Her parents will receive $40,000, and the remaining money will go toward paying the family's lawyers $182,500 in fees and reimbursing Medicaid $112,500 for expenses incurred after the girl's birth, according to court filings.

Browne's lawyer, Michael Pignatelli, said yesterday that he would not comment on the settlements.

'All I can say is the cases are resolved,' he said. 'There's no admission of any wrongdoing.'

Browne, who founded the Concord Birth and Wellness Center, voluntarily surrendered her license last June following an investigation by the state Midwifery Council into a series of complaints about the care she provided her patients. The complaints, which came from Concord Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and an obstetrician, alleged that Browne hadn't managed cases appropriately, failing to consult with obstetricians about high-risk pregnancies.

Browne said in a statement last winter that she stood by her judgment, describing the standard she provided patients as 'comparable to any other midwife in New Hampshire.'

In their lawsuit against Browne, the Sadowskis also alleged that Browne hadn't managed their case appropriately. Although Sarah Sadowski presented several risk factors during her pregnancy, Browne did not refer her to an obstetrician, nor did she send the mother to the hospital when she was unable to locate the baby's heartbeat during labor, according to court documents filed on behalf of the couple.

And when the baby was born and still had no heartbeat, Browne did not call promptly for an ambulance, though Jonathan Sadowski repeatedly suggested it, according to court documents.

In a petition to approve the settlement negotiated with Browne, Randy Reis, the lawyer for the Sadowskis, said Browne had an insurance policy limit of $1 million.

'Despite the enormous damages suffered by the minor Plaintiff,' Reis wrote in the petition, 'her parents have decided to avoid incurring the substantial costs, delays and risks associated with the pursuit of a birth injury case, given the limited amount of damages recoverable.'

Midwives are not required to carry malpractice insurance to be licensed by the state, although several choose to, said Adrian Feldhusen, chairwoman of the New Hampshire Midwifery Council. She said most insurance companies will not cover midwives who do not have malpractice insurance, but 'that coverage is optional and each midwife makes the choice for herself,' Feldhusen said.

Although the terms of Browne's settlement with the Sadowskis are disclosed in court filings, Reis said in a phone conversation that he could not comment on it.

Kevin Dugan, the lawyer who represented Jennifer Middlemiss in the other lawsuit against Browne, also said he could not comment, except to say the case had been resolved by settlement. He would not say whether Middlemiss, a patient of Browne's who developed an infection after giving birth in April 2009, received money from Browne as part of the agreement.

Middlemiss had also sued a doctor, Ashish Chaudhari of Concord Women's Care, for allegedly failing to manage her complaints when she was admitted to the emergency room with fever and abdominal pain. She was later diagnosed with an infection and underwent a hysterectomy at age 28, according to court documents.

Peter Meyer, the attorney who represented Chaudhari, would not comment on the settlement but said there was 'no admission of fault or liability' on the part of Chaudhari.

In the settlement between Browne and the Sadowskis, the $386,000 going to the couple's daughter will be placed in a special needs trust.

That kind of trust is often established in medical malpractice cases involving birth injuries to ensure that a child will continue to qualify for public assistance, said Gary Richardson, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases. The trusts allow families to withdraw money for purchases related to the child's special needs, whether that be to buy a specially designed van to bring the child to appointments or to hire someone to help provide 24-hour care, Richardson said.

Any money left over in a special needs trust after its beneficiary dies goes to the state, which reviews the trusts to ensure they meet federal guidelines, said Jennifer Jones, general counsel to the state Division of Family Assistance.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)