Medical Malpractice: Prenatal Error

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 What is Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when a physician, medical professional, or healthcare organization falls below the standard of duty of care that is required when doing any of the following to a patient:

  • Managing;
  • Diagnosing; or
  • Treating.

Typically, deviating from the standard of duty of care that is required of all medical professionals typically stems from acts of negligence. Medical malpractice laws enable injured patients to bring claims against a negligent medical professional.

These laws allow the injured party to recover damages for the harms which are caused by their substandard conduct. Whether a medical professional is held liable for a patient’s injuries will depend upon the facts of the specific case as well as the various rules and requirements of medical malpractice laws in a specific state.

It is important to note that, in some cases, the standards and regulations for medical malpractice may vary even between different jurisdictions within a state. If an individual believes they have sustained injuries as a result of medical malpractice, they should consult with a local personal injury attorney. The attorney can help them learn more regarding the relevant laws which apply in the jurisdiction.

What is Medical Malpractice Liability?

Medical malpractice liability refers to which individuals or entities should be legally responsible for injuries a patient suffers. Generally, the party who is liable is the one that breached their duty of care and actually caused the patient’s injuries.

Determining exactly who is liable may be a challenge in some cases because medical malpractice liability often involves more than one party. For example, medical malpractice liability may be shared between a doctor and a nurse, or other medical personnel, when their combined negligent actions resulted in injury to a patient.

For example, suppose that improper instructions were provided or if one medical professional failed to correct another, then it is possible that both parties may be held liable for their mistakes. Additionally, the organization itself, such as a hospital organization may also be held liable for medical malpractice.

This is especially true in cases where the overall policy or quality of care of the medical organization falls below the necessary duty of care standard. Parties who may be held liable for medical malpractice include, but are not limited to:

  • General practitioners;
  • Nurses;
  • Hospitals;
  • Surgeons;
  • Dentists;
  • Psychiatrists;
  • Chiropractors;
  • Gynecologists; and
  • Clerical staff.

What Are Some Examples of Medical Malpractice Claims?

Common examples of medical malpractice claims may include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing an improper diagnosis or failure to diagnose a patient;
  • Prescribing the wrong treatment or wrong medication;
  • Operating on the wrong body part, for example, amputating their left leg instead of right leg;
  • Failure to follow-up after a patient undergoes a serious medical procedure;
  • Prematurely discharging a patient before they have recovered well enough;
  • Leaving behind medical equipment, for example, instruments or sponges left inside a patient during a surgery;
  • Failure to provide information or receive informed consent before a patient undergoes surgery; and
  • Inputting erroneous data into a patient’s medical chart, causing harm to the patient.

Can a Woman Sue Her Doctor if There is a Prenatal Error?

There are numerous issues which may arise with a baby before it is ever born. In some cases, injuries may result from medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice occurs when a doctor, in these cases, gynecologists or obstetricians, make a mistake. The mistake is gross enough that it deviates from the standard of care.

The standard of care is what an average, similarly educated physician would have done if faced with similar circumstances. In some states, a mother may be able to recover for emotional distress for a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

What Should a Mother Expect From Her Doctor During Pregnancy?

There are certain things an expectant mother should expect from her physician during her pregnancy. In the first trimester, the doctor should check the mother’s medical history.

The doctor should identify risk factors, which may include:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs);
  • Diabetes;
  • Previous abortions or miscarriages;
  • Drug and alcohol use;
  • The mother’s diet;
  • Genetic diseases; and
  • Any other relevant issues.

All of these factors may have serious effects on the unborn baby. Part of the doctor’s job during this time is to assess the risks and take the appropriate precautions.

For example, a doctor should advise the woman to start taking prenatal vitamins that have folic acid. Folic acid is especially important in the early stages of the baby’s brain and spinal cord development.

If an embryo develops spina bifida because of the doctor’s failure to advise, they may be liable for malpractice. Early on in the second trimester the doctor should:

  • Administer ultrasound tests;
  • Determine the growth rate of the baby; and
  • Check the baby’s:
    • Heart;
    • Organs; and
    • Extremities.

During the third trimester, the doctor should assign the mother to a comprehensive pregnant course so she can prepare for delivery. The doctor must assess the size of the baby to determine if a vaginal birth is safe.

The doctor must also continue to monitor the heart and other vital organs for signs of fetal distress. Fetal distress may be caused by:

  • High acidity in the blood;
  • A lack of oxygen; and
  • Fetal feces being present in the amniotic fluid.

If any of these issues arise, the baby may have to be delivered by c-section. Although numerous birth injuries occur due to medical malpractice during a trimester, decisions that are made at the time of the birth can endanger the life of the infant.

If the baby is positioned in an abnormal manner or is breach, meaning in a position other than head down, the doctor’s decision to perform a c-section may be crucial. Other issues, such as administering too much pain medication may inhibit the mother’s body from releasing the correct amount or kind of hormones to prevent birth injury.

Can the Mother Sue Her Doctor for Injuries to Herself?

Yes, a mother may sue her doctor for injuries to herself if the injuries she suffered were injuries that a woman would not normally suffer as a result of childbirth. A scar is not unusual following a c-section.

Vaginal tears are less common if the doctor takes necessary precautions. However, injuries may depend upon the exact situation and the doctor’s level of experience.

What Can I Recover for My Injuries?

The damages which are awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits usually cover three areas, including:

  • Economic damages;
  • Non-economic damages; and
  • Punitive damages.

Economic damages refer to monetary amounts which can be measured and specifically calculated based on particular harm, including:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Hospital bills;
  • Lost wages;
  • Loss of earning capacity; and
  • Other out-of-pocket costs.

Non-economic damages, in contrast, are more difficult to calculate because they refer to intangible or somewhat immeasurable injuries, including:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of enjoyment of activities; and
  • Other issues.

Punitive damages are the difficult type of damages to obtain in a medical malpractice lawsuit. They are rarely awarded and are only recognized for such lawsuits in a handful of states. In states where punitive damages are awarded, however, there are usually damage caps, or limits, on the amount.

Other remedies a plaintiff may request include having the medical professional’s license suspended or revoked and requiring that the medical facility update their policies or health and safety procedures.

How Can a Lawyer Help?

A lawyer can assist you with recovering medical expenses and compensation for your physical pain and suffering. If you or your child has suffered a birth injury, it may be helpful to contact a personal injury attorney to learn about the possibility of recovery.

It is important to remember that there are deadlines for bringing personal injury claims, so do not delay.

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