Immunity: Ambiguous Blood Alcohol Toxicology Screen Report Causes Mother to Lose Custody

April 1, 2013 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​The Supreme Court of Kentucky concluded that a hospital and a neonatologist were protected from civil and criminal liability after reporting ambiguous blood alcohol test results for a mother after she gave birth, despite results of a low blood alcohol level and no signs of intoxication. After being admitted to the hospital for labor induction, the mother, who had a past history of street drug use, had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.3 mg/dL on the toxicology screen required by social services. An "H" was entered next to the result on the report, which the mother claimed indicated "high." The meaning of "H" was not determined, but the court opinion indicated that its meaning was not relevant to the case, because it did not help resolve the issue of whether the information was reported in good faith. The report correctly stated that the state's level for intoxication is 80 mg/dL. While BAC is sometimes used to measure alcohol levels, a more "commonly understood" measure is blood alcohol percentage, which can be calculated by dividing the BAC by 1,000.

The neonatologist authorized that the mother's blood alcohol level be reported to the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services; the report stated "Laboratory-Toxicology results on mother w/'0.3 Ethyl Alcohol level as high' on test." The mother alleged that the neonatologist did not convert her BAC to a blood alcohol percentage before sending the report; the neonatologist stated that the mother's blood alcohol level was correctly reported but misinterpreted by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services believed that the mother's blood alcohol percentage was 0.3, when it was in fact 0.0003%, well below the state's intoxication limit of 0.08%. The mother's infant son was taken away from her because of the report...

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