Epidural Errors Leading to Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Pregnant women often receive epidurals during labor, regardless of whether they undergo a C-section or proceed with a traditional vaginal delivery. This type of regional anesthesia removes sensitivity from the lower half of the body while allowing a mother to retain control and sensation elsewhere. By using an epidural, a woman can withstand the strain of prolonged labor while continuing to actively and consciously participate in childbirth.
While an epidural is relatively routine, a doctor should get informed consent from a pregnant woman after explaining the risks. Then, they will disinfect and anesthetize a site near the spine. After inserting a catheter through a needle placed in the patient’s back, the doctor will remove the needle and tape the catheter in place so that pain medication can flow through it. Sometimes medication will flow constantly through the catheter, but sometimes it will be used only at certain intervals. After childbirth, the doctor will need to remove the catheter and continue checking the injection site for any complications.
Types of Epidural Errors
Since the area around the spine affects many important functions, errors involving epidurals can lead to grave consequences. Only a thoroughly trained professional should provide this type of anesthesia. Otherwise, a mother and a baby may suffer harm from errors such as:
Placing the needle improperly
Using the wrong dosage of anesthesia
Ignoring signs of maternal or fetal distress
Administering an epidural too early during labor
A doctor also should check for pregnancy complications that may prevent the safe use of this anesthesia. For example, an epidural may be improper for a mother who is suffering from hemorrhage (severe blood loss), a lack of platelets in the blood, or certain infections. Even after a doctor starts administering an epidural, they should keep monitoring the mother and the child for signs of allergic reactions or other sudden problems.
Complications From Epidurals
The use of epidurals poses certain risks under any circumstances, but errors by doctors may exacerbate the risks. While some epidural complications may be minor and easily resolved, such as nausea, headaches, and back aches, others may last indefinitely and affect many areas of life.
Blood clots (hematomas) and blood pressure problems
Sometimes epidural complications can lead to a need for a C-section or assistive devices during childbirth, such as forceps or vacuum extractors. Meanwhile, a child may encounter complications such as breech birth, oxygen deprivation, problems with breathing or feeding, fluctuations in heart rate, and brain injuries. Complications may occur even when the process is conducted correctly. However, medical errors may increase risks or may lead to worse outcomes when complications develop.
Compensation for Injuries Caused by Epidural Errors
If complications resulting from an epidural error caused lasting harm to a mother or a child, a family can bring a medical malpractice claim against an anesthesiologist or obstetrician. They would need to show that the injuries likely would not have arisen if the defendant doctor had met the appropriate standard of care. This essentially consists of the accepted practices for a doctor in the same specialty treating a similar patient.
The Role of Experts
Expert witnesses will need to explain what the doctor should have done differently and how their mistakes harmed the patient.
If a medical malpractice claim succeeds, a patient can recover compensation for medical expenses, the costs of future treatment, and pain and suffering. They should consult an attorney as soon as possible once they suspect an epidural error. State laws impose statutes of limitations for medical malpractice cases, and even a strong case probably will face dismissal if it is not filed within the required time. A birth injury attorney can gather expert testimony and navigate around any procedural pitfalls, increasing the chance of success. These attorneys typically handle their cases on a contingency fee basis, which means that they do not collect fees for their services until they obtain a compensation award for a client. Attorney fees are calculated as a percentage of this award.