BANGOR, Maine — Lorraine Morin, who was having contractions when she was discharged from Eastern Maine Medical Center on July 1, 2007, after finding out the 16-week-old fetus she carried had no heartbeat, has won $200,000 in a civil lawsuit against the hospital.
She delivered her dead son in the bathroom of her Millinocket home later in the day and subsequently sued the hospital in U.S. District Court in Bangor, claiming that doctors violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act when they sent her home.
The law prevents a hospital from discharging a patient who is in an emergency medical condition, which includes being pregnant and having contractions.
The three-day trial ended Wednesday and the jury of six women and two men issued their verdict at around 10 p.m. Deliberations took nearly seven hours. They awarded $50,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages. Morin got a hug from her husband, Roger, after hearing the judgment.
“I’m relieved,” she said shortly after leaving the courtroom. “I have to tell you I promised my girls I would do everything I could to make sure this didn’t happen to them.
“I did this for them and every other woman out there,” Morin said.
Her attorney, A.J. Greif, said the jury’s decision should send a strong message to the hospital.
“I just hope the powers that be at Eastern Maine will listen to the very hard-working jury,” he said.
Morin testified that she was experiencing cramping and pain and went to the emergency room at EMMC at around 4:30 a.m. July 1, 2007.
After an ultrasound performed by Dr. Paul Reinstein and an ultrasound and pelvic examination performed by Dr. Robert Grover, it was determined that the 16-week-old male fetus she was carrying had died, according to testimony by the Morins and the doctors.
Grover discharged her at 6:15 a.m. even though she begged to stay in the hospital, hospital personnel and Morin testified.
Grover and Reinstein testified Tuesday that sending women experiencing miscarriages home is common practice.
On Wednesday, EMMC attorney George Schelling questioned defense witness Dr. Gregory Gimbel, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Brunswick, about the medical institution’s response to Morin’s care. Gimbel, who has reviewed Morin’s medical records, said Grover’s decision to discharge Morin in 2007 was “appropriate.”
After the verdict Schelling referred all questions to Norm Dinerman, former chief of the emergency department who now is an attending physician in the emergency room.
“We’re obviously very disappointed in the verdict,” Dinerman said. “We feel the care at Eastern Maine is very competently done.”
Dinerman said he “can’t speak to the appeal” but added that “if this is upheld, I think that from a national perspective, we will have to evaluate the way we manage these patients.”
He also said the EMTALA law “provides an extraordinarily narrow interpretation in what physicians can and cannot do. I think that needs to addressed on a national basis.”
Morin said she would like to see the hospital’s policy change.
“Mothers need to be treated a lot better than that,” she said.
Roger Morin testified Monday that he got upset when the hospital discharge went forward and he raised his voice. He said that a nurse and Reinstein told him to calm down or security would be called.
“We were told to leave and threatened with security to force us to leave,” he told the jury.
Reinstein denied making the threat, and the two nurses who treated Morin testified that they didn’t recall or make records of such a statement being made. One did say it is common practice to warn those who cause a disturbance.
Lorraine Morin, who told jurors she still has nightmares and relives the trauma of delivering her son in her bathroom three years ago, said outside the courthouse that she didn’t return to EMMC because of the way they treated her earlier in the day.
“I never felt or thought I could go back,” she said.
U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, described the case as “a complicated one” when he thanked the jury for their service.
At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday while the jury was still out, Lorraine Morin said regardless of the jury’s decision, she and her family already felt vindicated because the story of what happened to her has been made public.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I’ve already won.”