Plaintiff's Expert in Med-Mal Case Explains Censure, Blames Defendant for Baby's Brain Damage
Plaintiffs' witness blames defendant for baby's injuries, explains 2004 censure
A controversial expert witness who pioneered electronic fetal monitoring gave a moment-by-moment analysis of what he called "the baby being injured" just before birth during a potential $50 million medical malpractice trial Wednesday in Cobb County State Court.
Under direct examination by plaintiffs attorney Tommy Malone, Dr. Barry Schifrin, who teaches medical students at the University of California, Los Angeles, interpreted fetal heartbeat tracings during Lori Sutton's labor up through the birth of her son.
The boy, born in April 2008 with severe brain damage, went 19 minutes without a heartbeat before the medical team at WellStar Health System Inc.'s Kennestone hospital resuscitated him. The phrase "born dead" was used repeatedly in questions and answers.
Plaintiffs Lori and Landon Sutton allege that their baby would have been born healthy if their obstetrician, Dr. Gregg Alan Bauer of Marietta OB-GYN Affiliates, had heeded multiple signs of trouble and delivered Tucker with a timely cesarean section.
After about four hours of direct testimony, the doctor's defense counsel, Daniel Huff of Huff Powell & Bailey, took about an hour to cross-examine Schifrin, finishing at 6:30 p.m.
To some extent, Malone had stolen Huff's thunder by addressing Schifrin's most obvious vulnerability—his 2004 censure by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, of which Schifrin's father was a founder. Schifrin said the group attributed to him statements he never made and falsely accused him of lying in expert witness testimony in another med-mal case.
Schifrin said the group at the time favored a criminal standard for medical malpractice cases, meaning that a plaintiff would have to prove intent to harm. He said the group has since split into separate organizations for medical and political purposes, addressing his concerns.
Then Malone went over part of Schifrin's 15-page vitae, asking him if in 2005, a year after he resigned as an ACOG fellow, the group gave him an award. Schifrin said that was correct.
On cross, Huff asked Schifrin if he usually testifies for plaintiffs. The doctor replied that earlier in his career, he mainly testified for defendants. The balance changed as more plaintiffs asked for his services. Huff asked him about speaking to groups of plaintiffs lawyers, such as the American Trial Lawyers Association, with topics such as "Understanding How Strips Can Help or Hurt Your Case."
Schifrin answered that he did not write such titles, that he only responded to speaking invitations to teach people how to read the fetal monitoring strips that he helped develop.