Posted On: March 6, 2011 by Watts & Herring, LLC

Maryland Hospital Bans Birth Videos

STLToday.com has posted an interesting article about a Maryland hospital's ban on photographing or videotaping of births. Meritus Medical Center, in Hagerstown, MD, even requires cell phones and cameras be turned off and only allows photographing to begin after the medical staff have given the okay.

The hospital is trying to protect both its patients and staff. The medical staff won't be distracted by electronics and can better focus their attention on the safety and health of the mother and baby. Also, hospital staff really don't want to be popping up on Facebook and YouTube videos, so their privacy is being protected as well.

This hospital's reasoning is backed by a variety of lawsuits, of which video can be used as evidence. For example, in 2007 a baby was born in the University of Illinois Hospital with permanent shoulder injuries. The video the baby's father took in the delivery room showed the midwife using "excessive force" and the family was paid $2.3 million in damages.

Many hospitals allow and even encourage recording because modern cameras, particularly those taking video, are so unobtrusive. But that same technology has introduced a wild card into a fraught scene that could shock a jury — with the mother screaming and staff responding (or not) to what may look like an emergency — all of which can be edited to misrepresent what actually took place.

The restrictions at Meritus went into effect in November, after the hospital began reviewing all of its policies because it was moving to a new facility and learned that six other hospitals in the region had barred photography and videography during births. Georgetown University Hospital in Washington has a similar policy.

Obstetricians are actually sued more frequently than other specialty doctors, and are also more wary than other doctors because their actions are usually caught on film. Videos are a particular worry for obstetricians, as the noises can make the situation seem worse, or can show something that a still camera photograph would have missed.

"The first consideration for a trial attorney is how this plays to a jury," said Paul Myre, a lawyer in St. Louis who has defended doctors and hospitals in malpractice cases for 25 years.

In one case in which he was involved, a man on the jury fainted when a simple instructional video of a birth was shown. "Just a normal childbirth can look fairly traumatic to a layperson," Myre said. He said he defended a doctor in another case in which the video showed that his client "had done everything right," but the jury still felt "the child needed to be taken care of."