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Death of A Child, Betrayal of Trust: Couple Get $5M In Malpractice Case

Dec 19, 2002 | Seattle Times

Craig and Elizabeth Jackman had no reason to be suspicious of their obstetrician. He had a wonderful bedside manner and had delivered their first baby, by Caesarean section, without a hitch.

So when Elizabeth became pregnant again when she and Craig were both in their early 30s, they engaged the same doctor. But the birth of their second baby was a nightmare. Born blue and limp at Providence Hospital, Nathan sustained severe brain damage and died last year, less than 11 months later.

On Monday, the Jackmans signed a $5 million settlement with Providence Health Systems and Swedish Health Services, which had just acquired Providence Hospital. As part of the settlement, the obstetrician, Dr. Michael Greer, acknowledged that his actions during Nathan's delivery "fell below the standard of care of a reasonably prudent obstetrician."

Originally, the Jackmans were on a quest to find out what had happened at Nathan's birth. But in the process, they learned troubling information about Greer and discovered how difficult it is for patients to get information about a doctor's record.

Three years before Nathan's birth, Greer had resigned from Swedish during an investigation of his work. He had no privileges to practice at Providence when he delivered the Jackmans' baby. And, under restriction by the state, he wasn't supposed to be taking new obstetrics patients.

If they had known Greer's history, Liz Jackman said, "we never would have placed our baby's life in his hands."

"We don't want this to happen to anybody else," Craig Jackman said. "If there are still bad doctors in any hospital, the hospitals should do something about it they shouldn't wait for someone to die."

In a statement yesterday, Greer said he believed he had done nothing improper, despite his statement to the contrary in the settlement. "I chose to accept limited responsibility in this legal case in order to achieve a settlement that would involve no financial liability on my part," said Greer, who did not have malpractice insurance. As part of the settlement, Swedish and Providence acknowledged that they had violated standards of care and that "corporate negligence" played a part in Nathan's injuries and death.

The settlement, Swedish said, is among the largest it has paid for such claims. Larger settlements have been paid in the state for botched deliveries: A $13 million settlement this year involving injuries to mother and baby during a birth at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds is likely the largest for an out-of-court malpractice settlement.

The lawsuit filed by the Jackmans contended that Greer refused to respond to a nurse's concerns about fetal distress and didn't respond to repeated calls until it was too late. The suit also said the nurse assigned to Jackman was "a rookie" who had not relayed her concerns to superiors.

Greer, in his statement, said the Jackman delivery was the fourth of five he had done that day and night and that he was heavily dependent on Providence's nursing staff.

During the delivery, he said, nurses didn't notify him fast enough. When they did, he said, he delivered Nathan Jackman within seven minutes. At the time, he said, he did not know his privileges to practice at Providence had lapsed.

Along with his medical practice, Greer has worked as a fashion model for Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer and The Bon Marché, appearing in runway shows and catalogs. He started a clothing company called Black Brains and is described by those who know him as personable, warm and outgoing.

But his record as a doctor, unbeknownst to the Jackmans at the time, was far from unblemished. In 1997, three years before Nathan's birth, Greer had resigned from the medical staff at Swedish Medical Center after a committee recommended his privileges be revoked.

In 1998, after an investigation, the licensing board did not take formal disciplinary action against Greer. Instead, he agreed not to accept new obstetrics patients and to improve his record-keeping and chart entries, including listing medications patients are taking and documenting the reasons for surgery.

Greer, in yesterday's statement, said Swedish's investigation eventually was resolved in his favor.

Nancy Auer, vice president of medical affairs at Swedish, said results of "peer reviews" are not made public, in part to create a "safe" place for doctors to report medical errors and identify institutional problems.

If patients want to know about their doctor's record, she said, they should ask the doctor.

These days, Greer is practicing out of the Holistic Weight Loss Clinic, offering herb and natural hormone treatments, gynecological consultations and weight-loss regimens in downtown Seattle.

Swedish noted it delivers more than 7,000 babies a year, with very few problems.

Swedish reported Greer to a national data bank that collects report of adverse actions against doctors when it earlier investigated him, Boyle said. But the Jackmans are distressed that Swedish has not reported Greer's actions in their case.

Craig Jackman said he would like to know why Swedish didn't take action against Greer earlier. Whatever the reason, he said, "they chose that reason over my son's life — that's not acceptable."

The death of a child is a "permanent, life-altering thing," he said. "I think about Nathan every hour of every day."

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