NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 14, 2011
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6592-08.
Frank J. Zazzaro argued the cause for appellants (Law Offices of Frank J. Zazzaro, attorneys; Bridget Saro, on the brief).
Robert J. Logan argued the cause for respondents (Vasios, Kelly & Strollo, attorneys; Mr. Logan, on the brief).
Before Judges Fuentes, Graves, and Koblitz.
Plaintiffs Joevel Edwards and Dean Holland filed a medical malpractice action against defendants Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (Beth Israel), certified nurse midwife (CNM) Dawn Fitts, and Nurse Dorothy Ibabuchi,  alleging that defendants' professional negligence caused Edwards to deliver a stillborn baby girl. The Law Division granted defendants' summary judgment motion and dismissed plaintiffs' cause of action. The motion judge found plaintiffs did not present competent expert testimony establishing a causal link between defendants' alleged negligence and the baby's death. We affirm.
Because the trial court dismissed plaintiffs' case as a matter of law, we will consider all of the facts at issue in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, including any rational inferences that may be drawn from the record before us. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995); R. 4:46-2(c).
On August 23, 2006, nineteen-year-old Edwards came into Beth Israel for a routine prenatal visit. She was in the third trimester of her pregnancy. She was examined at around three o'clock that afternoon. The examination did not reveal any problems with either Edwards or the fetus. She returned home at around four o'clock, ate, and slept briefly; when she woke up, she went outside and watched television, all without incident.
Edwards felt her first contraction at around six o'clock that same day. The next came at around nine o'clock in the evening. She felt the third contraction about fifteen minutes later and then felt "back to back contractions" until 10 p.m. She arrived at Beth Israel Hospital's emergency room at approximately 11:23 p.m., complaining of contractions and spontaneous rupture of membrane, which CNM Fitts defined as indicative that "she broke her water." Nurse Ibabuchi and CNM Fitts were assigned to monitor and assist in Edwards's delivery.
According to plaintiffs, Ibabuchi and Fitts both testified that they were concerned about Edwards's delivery, because she had an elevated temperature of 100.6 degrees, a history of a ruptured membrane and was dilated to four centimeters, and had the presence of meconium and foul-smelling amniotic fluid. Plaintiffs claim that Ibabuchi and Fitts admitted that these are well-known risk factors to the health of the fetus.
Again accepting plaintiffs' account of events for purposes of this appeal, the fetus's heart rate was traced only intermittently, as it accelerated and decelerated over three hours. These factors are indicators of the fetus's distress. Edwards delivered a stillborn baby girl at 5:15 a.m. on August 24, 2006. The autopsy identified the cause of the baby's death as pneumonia suffocation due to the presence of excessive amniotic debris and extensive meconium aspirated in the baby's lungs. The two autopsy physicians opined that the "most likely cause of fetal demise was the infection and the perinatal axphyia both of which are probably related to each other."
Plaintiffs presented only the report of Kathleen M. Bizal, a registered nurse (RN) certified in in-patient obstetrics, then licensed as a RN only in the State of Pennsylvania. Bizal described the standard of nursing care applicable to the treatment of women who are about to give ...