A Georgia couple filed a lawsuit this week against a doctor, hospital and nurses involved in the delivery of their first child, claiming that an obstetrician had used too much force during the procedure, resulting in the decapitation and death of their baby.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in Clayton County State Court, also alleged that unnamed staff members at the hospital, Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale, Ga., about 13 minutes south of downtown Atlanta, had tried to conceal from the couple that their son had been decapitated and discouraged them from seeking an autopsy.
“Their dreams and hopes turned into a nightmare,” Cory Lynch, a lawyer for the couple, said at a news conference in Atlanta on Wednesday.
According to the suit, filed on behalf of Jessica Ross, 20, and Treveon Isaiah Taylor, Sr., 21, of Riverdale, Ga., the obstetrician, Dr. Tracey St. Julian, applied excessive force on the baby’s neck and head during an attempted vaginal delivery in early July, separating the head from the body.
Roderick Edmond, a lawyer for the couple who is also a physician, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that Ms. Ross had pushed for several hours but the baby could not properly descend the vaginal canal because of a condition called shoulder dystocia, which results in a baby’s shoulder getting stuck.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “most shoulder dystocia cases are relieved without injury to the fetus.”
Dr. St. Julian did not use proper maneuvers to relieve the shoulder dystocia and applied “excessive traction,” said Dr. Edmond. He said that she had also failed to call for additional help and perform an emergency cesarean section in a timely manner.
The baby’s legs and torso were delivered through a cesarean section, an incision in the uterus, which Ms. Ross eventually received after making multiple requests, according to the complaint. The baby’s head was then delivered vaginally, the suit said.
“This baby would not have been injured at all if they had called a stat C-section at the proper time,” said Dr. Edmond, referring to an emergency cesarean birth that is not previously scheduled.
The Clayton County Police Department said in a statement on Wednesday that it had opened a preliminary investigation into the death of the infant, whom the couple had named Treveon Isaiah Taylor Jr.
Brian Byars, director of the Clayton County Medical Examiner’s Office, said in an interview on Thursday that the cause of the infant’s death was under investigation. He said he had also requested that state agencies investigate the role of the doctor and nurses in the episode.
In addition to Dr. St. Julian and Southern Regional Medical Center, the lawsuit lists the health group that Dr. St. Julian is a part of, called Premier Women’s Obgyn, and six unnamed nurses as defendants. The suit accuses them of gross negligence, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Kimberly Golden-Benner, a spokesperson for Southern Regional Medical Center, said in an emailed statement on Thursday that the hospital “denies the allegations of wrongdoing in the complaint.”
The hospital cannot “discuss the care and treatment of specific patients” because of privacy laws, she said, but added, “we can state this unfortunate infant death occurred in utero prior to the delivery and decapitation.”
Ms. Golden-Benner did not specify what the hospital believed to be the cause of death.
Dr. St. Julian and Premier Women’s Obgyn did not respond on Wednesday and Thursday to calls or emails for comment. According to the organization’s website, Dr. St. Julian is a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist who has practiced in the Atlanta area for over 18 years. She completed her residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it said.
It could not be learned if Dr. St. Julian and Premier Women’s Obgyn had lawyers.
According to lawyers for the couple, unspecified hospital staff members denied requests from Ms. Ross and Mr. Taylor to see and hold their child. The couple was permitted to view their child only from afar, during which the baby was wrapped tightly in a blanket with his head propped in a manner that concealed the decapitation, their lawyers said.
Ms. Ross and Mr. Taylor did not learn the details of what had happened to their son until days later, when the funeral home alerted them to the state of the body, according to their lawyers. The funeral home was also the first to notify the medical examiner’s office, Mr. Byars said.
“It’s very abnormal to be called three days later considering usually we’re called within minutes to hours of a death,” he said. “There’s nothing normal about this incident. This was a full-term baby. It was very healthy.”
Dr. Edmond said Ms. Ross “clearly fits the demographics” of young Black women who statistically experience higher infant and maternal mortality rates and adverse birth outcomes. “This is a horrific, horrific outcome,” he said.
Ms. Ross and Mr. Taylor said in an emailed statement on Thursday that they filed the lawsuit to “hold those responsible for our son’s death accountable in the hopes that no other parents have to experience such a profound loss.”