Carla Campos thought that someday the baby she was carrying might like to see how she came into the world, so she had her husband set up a video camera to record her every strain and push.
But last week, she showed the video to a very different audience - an Oklahoma jury - as she sued the doctor whom she and her husband blame for their daughter's disfigured, permanently limp left arm.Now doctors, hospitals and insurance companies - realizing that today's family keepsake can lead to tomorrow's million-dollar verdict - are banning some video cameras during childbirth.
"The person who is doing the filming is not going to stop when something goes wrong," said Joan Bristow of the Doctors' Company in Napa, Calif., which insures 20,000 doctors nationwide. "When either there is a problem with the mother or the baby, all of this is going to be on film."
Her company advises obstetricians to consider the risk before allowing a camera. "Our task is to keep physicians out of trouble," Bristow said.
There are no statistics on how many hospitals or doctors are banning cameras, although interviews with administrators, physicians and mothers suggest it is increasingly common.
Some have banned video cameras from delivery rooms altogether. Many prohibit taping the birth itself but let other stages of labor be filmed. Others require families to turn off cameras if something goes wrong.
Meanwhile, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology is developing guidelines for doctors.
"Our concern is this could be one more tool that plaintiffs' attorneys use to put the worst face on something. You have to try to explain enough away as it is," said Dr. R.C. Elliott, an obstetrician in Tulsa, Okla., who was not involved in the Campos case.
Elliott stopped letting parents film births after the Physicians Liability Insurance Company of Oklahoma, which insures most of the state's doctors, recommended against it.
"There hasn't been a great hue and cry from the patients," said Dr. Lynn Frame, another Tulsa doctor who helped persuade his hospital to ban cameras. "The patients who want to have the California-underwater-hot-tub delivery don't come to us to begin with."
But attorneys - particularly those representing patients in malpractice cases - say they are alarmed by the growing number of hospitals with these policies. Videos simply tell the truth, they argue, and that should help doctors.
Atlanta-based attorney Don C. Keenan said he has declined to represent 25 to 30 families whose videos undercut their arguments. But in other cases, he said, a video can help a family win justice.
"Many times you have a swearing contest where the doctors and the nurses say they did this and that but it's not in the (paper) record," he said. "The videotape breaks the swearing contest."
But what if a video exonerating a physician is mysteriously lost or altered by an unethical parent? Some insurance companies urge hospitals to keep copies of such videos, but hospitals may find that cumbersome.
Doctors fear selective editing could give a jury a skewed view of what happened.
"You can have a two-hour taping of a show and a 15-second sound bite becomes the show," said Dr. Kim Alumbaugh, an obstetrician in Louisville, Ky., who is helping develop the national guidelines but who spoke only for herself.
Elliott said he was sued once where a video was used as evidence. The opposing attorney would freeze the frame and point out that he was frowning or looked confused, he said.
"You begin to get a little gun-shy about what may be interpreted by people when you just get little bits and pieces," he said. That case was dismissed before it reached trial.
Attorneys counter that good defense lawyers will make sure juries understand what a video shows.
"To me, there's very little argument you can make about the videotape not capturing what's in the room," said Keenan.
For Campos, the video didn't prove malpractice. Her attorneys contended it showed the baby's shoulders stuck as she descended through the birth canal. Instead of rotating the baby safely, they said, the doctor pulled her out, tearing Jessica's nerves and permanently withering her left arm.
But the jury, after seeing the video repeatedly, sided with the doctor.