NorthShore agrees to pay $35 million settlement in medical negligence case involving troubled obstetrician

NorthShore University HealthSystem and one of its former doctors — who has a history of problems — have agreed to pay $35 million to settle a lawsuit alleging the doctor was medically negligent when delivering a baby, leading to injuries and cerebral palsy, according to the plaintiff’s attorney.

The health system, Dr. Fabio Ortega and the girl’s family agreed to the settlement after a three-week-long trial over the case in Cook County Circuit Court, which resulted in a hung jury Friday.

Stephan Blandin, an attorney representing the family, said the money will help the family pay for their daughter’s future care. The girl is now 7 years old and is expected to need care throughout her life. The Tribune is not naming the family at the family’s request.

NorthShore said in a statement Monday: “We are committed to providing care at the highest standards of quality, safety and engagement for all of our patients. Out of respect for patient privacy and in compliance with applicable laws, we are unable to discuss the details of this case.”

For NorthShore, it’s the latest legal woe related to Ortega. In 2021, Ortega pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual abuse of two former patients. Ortega now faces about two dozen civil suits alleging he sexually assaulted patients, with many of those lawsuits also naming NorthShore as a defendant. The women who’ve brought those suits are represented by attorneys Tamara Holder and Josie Raimond. Ortega’s Illinois medical license was suspended in 2018 and later revoked.

In the medical negligence case, the girl’s mother was 27 weeks pregnant with twins in 2015 when she experienced vaginal bleeding and headed to NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital. Doctors decided to admit her to the hospital and put her on bed rest in hopes of giving the twins more time to develop.

Even before the bleeding, her pregnancy was considered high-risk because she was carrying twins and had placenta previa, which is when the placenta blocks the opening of the uterus, Blandin said in court.

Within 10 days of arriving at the hospital, the woman’s membranes ruptured and she was having contractions, Blandin said. Ortega saw her shortly before 11 a.m. the day after her membranes ruptured, and then left the hospital to see other patients in his clinic, said Blandin, who is a founding partner at Romanucci & Blandin.

Ortega didn’t return until about 9 p.m. that evening, about an hour after a different doctor recommended the woman have a cesarean section, Blandin alleged. The C-section started at about 9:40 p.m.

Ortega then supervised while a third-year resident made a low horizontal incision, Blandin alleged. It took about five minutes to deliver the first twin, a baby boy. The second twin proved harder to extract.

The resident and Ortega worked to pull the baby girl out but had trouble grabbing more than one foot, Blandin alleged. Another incision was then made, but it took 14 minutes, after the time of the first incision, before Ortega and the resident were able to deliver the girl.

Typically, during C-sections, babies should be delivered within one to three minutes, Blandin said.

The plaintiffs alleged the girl was injured because of negligence and decisions made during labor and delivery. During the trial, attorneys for the plaintiffs focused their arguments on decisions in the days and hours leading up to the C-section, the type of incision used during the delivery and the length of time it took to deliver the baby girl.

Though the girl has had many successes in therapy, she cannot talk, walk without assistance or chew food. She eats through a gastrostomy tube and often experiences painful, muscle contractions, Blandin said. Her twin brother is healthy.

Ortega and NorthShore, who are named as defendants, denied the allegations of medical negligence during the trial.

Joseph Farchione, an attorney representing Ortega and NorthShore, argued during the trial that a team of doctors and nurses at Evanston Hospital were caring for the woman the day that she gave birth even though Ortega was not physically present most of the day.

Farchione also said that the resident who performed the c-section was well qualified to do that procedure. “There is nothing unusual about having a resident as an assistant surgeon in a cesarean section, even one like this,” he said.

Attorneys also argued during the trial about whether the right type of incision was made.

The jury came back 10-2 on Friday, with 10 in favor of finding the doctor liable, Blandin said.