Medical Errors During Childbirth & Related Malpractice Lawsuits
Doctors and medical staff usually facilitate the process of pregnancy and childbirth. They help ensure that a mother and her baby stay safe by averting complications when possible, or by diagnosing and treating any problems that arise. However, sometimes a health care provider does not conform to the practices established in their field of medicine. By failing to monitor, diagnose, or treat a mother and her baby, they can cause serious harm. An error may involve doing something that a competent health care provider in their field would not have done, or it may involve failing to do something that a competent health care provider would have done.
Some distinctive types of medical errors are discussed further below, but errors can occur at virtually any stage of pregnancy or childbirth. If you suspect that your baby or you suffered harm because a doctor made an avoidable mistake, you should immediately consult an attorney about your legal options. You may be entitled to compensation.
Common Medical Errors
Failing to check a patient’s medical history
Failing to order appropriate tests
Misinterpreting test results
Misdiagnosing a condition
Failing to monitor a condition
Failing to follow up after treatment
Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring Errors
One of the main ways to check for signs of fetal distress during childbirth involves monitoring the heart rate. If the fetal heart rate is too fast (tachycardia), too slow (bradycardia), or irregular (tachyarrhythmia), a doctor should immediately follow up to identify and treat the health issue causing this problem. They may listen to the heart rate with a type of stethoscope in a process known as auscultation, or they may use internal or external electronic fetal heart rate monitoring. If a doctor does not check for signs of fetal distress and respond to them, a baby may face a risk of permanent disabilities, such as paralysis, cerebral palsy, or cognitive problems.
As an alternative to a traditional vaginal birth, doctors may remove a baby through an incision in the abdomen and uterus of the mother. C-sections have become increasingly widespread, but they generally should be conducted only when signs of fetal distress or other complications arise during pregnancy or labor and delivery. Sometimes a doctor may fail to recognize a need for a C-section because they do not monitor for risk factors. In other cases, a doctor may conduct a C-section improperly or fail to follow up after the procedure. C-section errors may result in hemorrhages, blood clots, or infections in a mother and nerve injuries, brain damage, or other potentially permanent disabilities in a child.
Forceps and Vacuum Extraction Errors
A doctor may use assistive devices during labor and delivery, especially if a natural childbirth stalls. A common type of device is a vacuum extractor, which a doctor may use to pull a baby through the birth canal while the mother pushes. The doctor will attach a cup to the head of the baby and use a vacuum pump to create suction. Less often, a doctor may use forceps to grasp the head of the baby and maneuver it out of the birth canal. If a doctor mishandles assistive devices or uses them when they should not be used, this may cause injuries to the face, brain, or nerves of the child, while the mother may suffer harm to areas surrounding her reproductive organs.
To induce labor in a post-term pregnancy or in response to complications, a doctor may provide Pitocin. This drug triggers or enhances contractions, but it involves significant risks. The enhanced contractions caused by Pitocin can disrupt the heart rate and oxygen level of a baby, causing serious complications such as brain damage and heart problems. Meanwhile, a mother may sustain a hemorrhage, stroke, or uterine rupture. Pitocin errors include using the drug when it is not necessary, providing an excessive dose of the drug, or failing to stop the use of the drug due to maternal or fetal distress. Doctors rather than the drug manufacturer bear the blame in these situations.
Many women giving birth choose to receive epidural anesthesia, which removes sensitivity from the lower half of the body. However, a doctor should check for risk factors before administering an epidural and monitor the mother throughout its administration. While using an epidural inherently involves some risks, these risks increase when errors occur. Epidural errors include providing too much anesthesia, administering an epidural too soon, ignoring signs of maternal or fetal distress, or placing the needle improperly. A mother may face a greater risk of infections, seizures, nerve injuries, and even cardiac arrest, while a baby may suffer from oxygen deprivation, heart problems, and brain injuries.
Holding Medical Providers Accountable for Their Errors
If preventable errors during pregnancy or childbirth harmed a mother or her child, they can bring a medical malpractice claim against any health care providers who were at fault. They would need to prove that the defendant did not meet the professional standard of care. This consists of the practices that a competent, reasonable provider in their field would have used in managing a similar pregnancy.
Experts play a central role in medical malpractice cases, including those arising from birth injuries. Many states require an affidavit of merit near the outset of a case. In an affidavit of merit, a qualified medical expert provides an opinion that malpractice likely occurred, based on their review of the medical records. A plaintiff probably also will need experts to testify about the standard of care and explain how the defendant deviated from it. Additional experts can discuss the damages suffered by a mother or a child, including any expected future harm. Thus, experts not only help prove liability but also ensure that a family receives the full compensation to which they are entitled. A birth injury attorney can assist with retaining experts and navigating the other nuances in these complex cases.