Reducing and preventing maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity is the responsibility of obstetrical and fetal medical care personnel. Injuries to the mother or newborn that occur due to a doctor’s failure to meet accepted standards of care can be grounds for a claim of medical malpractice.
Fortunately, most pregnant women in the United States receive good prenatal care. Many women do not experience any complications when they deliver their babies. When complications do arise, doctors can help the mother and baby avoid injuries. On the other hand, poor medical care does injure some women. Babies do die before or during childbirth. Some injuries to mothers are fatal. While tragedies during childbirth cannot always be avoided, mothers and babies are harmed every year by negligent doctors.
Effective obstetrical and fetal medical care requires early identification of women with high-risk pregnancies and infants, followed by appropriate antenatal and intrapartum care. The best way to provide this level of care is a coordinated, organized perinatal program that includes before, during, and after birth care.
What Is Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence, sometimes known as medical malpractice, occurs when a doctor or other healthcare provider fails to provide a patient with the standard of care that other members of the health profession within the same community would ordinarily abide by. For a cardiologist, this means that the doctor failed to follow the procedures that a reasonably prudent cardiologist would ordinarily follow under the same set of circumstances.
Medical negligence can affect pregnant women and their babies during prenatal care and childbirth. Studies have shown that obtaining effective prenatal care significantly reduces maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity.
What is Effective Prenatal Care?
A successful prenatal care program should include:
- Recording of detailed medical history
- Appropriate physical and laboratory exams
- Risk assessment
- Management of any arising complications
Beyond simply obtaining prenatal care, the ultimate usefulness of the care depends on what is done after risks are determined during examination. Failure to manage complications identified by prenatal care is a valid claim for medical malpractice. Examples of severe and life-threatening complications that doctors are responsible for treating in prenatal care include:
- Gestational Diabetes
- Ectopic Pregnancies
- Identification of potential birth defects
- Pregnancy Induced Hypertension
- Atypical fetal growth
What Is Prenatal Care Malpractice?
Doctors who provide their pregnant patients with prenatal care are expected to examine and investigate patient complaints that may signal a pregnancy complication and follow up on abnormal test results. Doctors commit malpractice when they fail to provide appropriate care, and the expecting mother or her fetus experiences a preventable injury.
The failure to diagnose harmful conditions during pregnancy is one of the most common types of prenatal care malpractice. Doctors sometimes fail to diagnose the following conditions in pregnant women:
- Preeclampsia: A hypertensive disorder that is a leading cause of maternal and infant illness and even death
- Gestational diabetes: A condition that can lead to hyperglycemia. Gestational diabetes places the mother and the child at risk of developing macrosomia, breathing difficulties, and other related health problems
- Hypoglycemia: A condition involving low blood sugar that is particularly dangerous for Type 1 diabetics. Hypoglycemia can lead to stillbirths, congenital malformations, and other fetal health conditions
- Macrosomia: A doctor’s failure to detect an unusually large fetus can lead to complications during delivery. Macrosomia can cause harm to the baby and the mother’s birth canal
- Rh compatibility: Rh compatibility is a preventable condition. If not treated, it can lead to brain damage, seizures, and other infant disorders
- Severe anemia: Insufficient iron deficiency during pregnancy can cause a baby to suffer from anemia and other serious problems
- Infections: Many infections in the mother’s body, such as herpes and E. coli, can be transmitted to the baby and cause health conditions such as neonatal sepsis
Other examples of negligent prenatal care include the failure to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy and the failure to warn pregnant women that the use of certain medications will elevate the risk of birth defects.
What Is Childbirth Malpractice?
Medical malpractice during the delivery of a child can cause severe harm to the mother, to the baby, or both. In extreme circumstances, negligence can cause the death of the mother or the child.
Preventable injuries that occur during childbirth may include:
- Brachial plexus injuries: Nerve damage that occurs when the baby’s shoulder is stretched. This often occurs when too much force is used to pull the baby as the baby passes through the birth canal
- Shoulder dystocia: Often caused by the inappropriate use of a vacuum extractor during delivery. Shoulder dystocia causes the baby’s shoulder to become lodged against the mother’s pubic bone as the baby’s head emerges, compressing the baby’s chest and reducing the baby’s oxygen supply.
- Fractured clavicles: A broken collarbone can be caused by the careless use of force, by pulling on the baby, or by other rough delivery techniques
- Prolapsed umbilical cord: Prolapsed umbilical cords are a condition that causes oxygen deprivation to the baby and usually requires a cesarean delivery. Prolapsed umbilical cords may cause brain damage if a doctor fails to recognize and respond immediately to the problem.
- Spinal cord injuries: Spinal cord injuries are among the most severe injuries to babies during childbirth. Spinal cord damage can be caused by the incorrect use of force during delivery
- Cerebral palsy: Failing to detect and remedy conditions that limit the supply of oxygen to the baby’s brain during childbirth may cause the onset of cerebral palsy, a condition that impairs motor functions
- Fetal distress syndrome: Fetal distress syndrome is an umbrella category that covers a variety of labor complications, including waiting too long to induce delivery or failing to address conditions that deprive the baby of oxygen.
- Premature rupture of membranes: When amniotic fluid leaks before labor states, the failure to administer prompt medical care can cause infections in both the mother and the baby
- Postpartum hemorrhaging: Excessive bleeding from the uterus is the most common cause of maternal death after a baby is delivered
Not every tragic injury involving a woman or a newborn child is avoidable, but mothers and their newborns should not have their lives and health jeopardized by a negligent mistake. The acts of negligence listed above are the most common causes of injury arising from pregnancy and childbirth malpractice.
Medical Malpractice Liability
Reliable tests and evaluation criteria exist to determine the existence of any of these complications. Medical doctors are duty-bound to consider these potential risks during prenatal care and take appropriate measures to treat any issue.
The courts have indicated that failure to do so can subject them to medical malpractice liability.
Do You Need an Attorney Experienced with Medical Malpractice?
Suppose you or a loved one have been injured by obstetrical medical malpractice. In that case, you should speak to a personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about the value of your case and what types of recoveries are available to you. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether medical malpractice was responsible for or contributed to an injury or death.
Use LegalMatch’s services today to find an experienced attorney in your area. Consultations are always free, and our services will always remain 100% confidential.