Pregnancy, Childbirth Complications, and Medical Errors: Potential Lawsuits
Understand the potential causes of birth injury complications and legal optionsBy Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on September 8, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Peter M. Villari
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What are Common Medical Errors Resulting in Pregnancy or Childbirth Complications?
- How Do You Determine the Cause of Complications?
- Legal Considerations and Seeking Compensation
“Every year, a small number of children are injured due to pregnancy or birth complications,” says Peter Villari, a medical malpractice attorney in Philadelphia whose practice focuses on birth injury lawsuits.
He notes that not all birth-related injuries are due to medical negligence. “The majority of people who contact us don’t have a medical malpractice claim. If there isn’t a case, we still try to help them by directing them to communities or agencies that may help them with their child’s care or benefits.”
However, if a birth injury attorney chooses to take your case, they will begin an intensive process of consulting medical experts and gathering medical records and other evidence to determine exactly what happened to your child and who is responsible.
This article discusses some medical complications that commonly cause birth injuries during pregnancy or delivery. In many states, the statute of limitations or timeframe for bringing a birth injury lawsuit starts to run down once you know or should have known that negligence was involved.
So, if you suspect that you or your child was injured due to medical errors, consult an experienced attorney as soon as possible.
What are Common Medical Errors Resulting in Pregnancy or Childbirth Complications?
Healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, are typically involved in every phase of pregnancy and childbirth. Their role is to help the mother and child through the process and keep them healthy and safe in accordance with their profession’s standards of care.
“Overall, the medical system does a great job,” says Villari. “But sadly, just as mechanics screw up, just as lawyers screw up, you name it—sometimes medical professionals screw up. And our legal system is designed so that if you’re negligent and harm someone, you’re held accountable.”
Some common medical errors that can cause serious injuries during pregnancy or childbirth include:
Errors During Prenatal Medical Care
- Delay or failure to diagnose a medical condition;
- Misdiagnosis of a medical condition;
- Failure to order or examine medical tests;
- Delay or failure to provide treatment or follow-up;
- Medication errors;
- Failure to monitor risk factors in the mother, such as a history of diabetes or high blood pressure, indicating preeclampsia and other conditions.
Errors During the Delivery Process
- Maternal infection control lapses;
- The improper use of medical instruments such as forceps or vacuum extractors;
- Failure to monitor signs of fetal distress, such as abnormal heart rates or lack of oxygen, resulting from shoulder dystocia or prolonged time in the birth canal;
- Failure to monitor blood loss, oxygen deprivation, a twisted umbilical cord, or intracranial hemorrhaging that can result in brain damage;
- Errors in providing pitocin, a drug that induces or increases contractions, potentially resulting in a range of serious complications, from abnormal heart rates in the baby to the mother’s uterine rupture;
- Failure to perform a Cesarean section (C-section) when needed or improperly performing the procedure.
How Do You Determine the Cause of Complications?
The medical mistakes listed above can result in a wide range of injuries to either the child or mother, from nerve damage in brachial plexus injuries to brain injuries.
Determining when and how a birth injury occurred is central to a birth injury attorney’s investigation in pre-litigation.
When Did the Birth Injury Occur?
“The question you’re trying to answer is: What stages of the birthing process were involved, and what is the medical diagnosis? You have to rule out many types of causes that aren’t actionable in a birth injury lawsuit,” says Villari, adding that cases may be related to:
- Prenatal care;
- The birth process itself; and
“For the first 100 days of life, neonatologists usually take care of the baby, then pediatricians take over,” adds Villari. “We’ve also handled cases where pediatricians have, sadly, not done something correct with a child. When the injuries occur, the child is one, two, or three years old.”
Was the Child, Mother, or Both Affected?
“Additionally, the injury may not have been to the child directly,” says Villari.
“Perhaps the mother was injured and, as a result, so was the child. For example, the mother might have had issues with blood volume or red blood cells during pregnancy and wasn’t properly diagnosed. And since she is directly connected to the fetus, that can translate into problems for the baby.”
Did the Medical Providers Fail to Prolong the Pregnancy?
Another important question related to the pre-birth process is whether the doctors allowed the delivery too soon.
“Premature birth is one of the leading causes of cerebral palsy and devastating brain injuries in children to this day,” says Villari. “Say you have a child at 24 weeks. As a general rule, you have a 50 percent better outcome every week you extend that pregnancy. Most doctors—obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatric neurologists—agree that if you get a child to 28-29 weeks, the odds are you’re going to have a relatively healthy child. So it’s a battle.”
How Long Does it Take to Get a Diagnosis?
“Many times, when parents seek legal help, they may not know the medical diagnosis since it hasn’t been reached yet,” explains Villari. “That’s not unusual.”
He says that “in the first 18 months of a child’s life, doctors often don’t reach a diagnosis or determine that the child has cerebral palsy, for example. The doctors know the child has a condition, but they aren’t quite sure what it is or is not.”
Legal Considerations and Seeking Compensation
If you suspect that you or your child was injured during pregnancy or childbirth due to preventable medical errors and are considering legal action, speak with an experienced birth injury lawyer as soon as possible.
You may have legal recourse for financial compensation, covering the costs of medical expenses and life care for your injured child. Learn more about the steps in a birth injury lawsuit and types of compensation.
To begin your search for a lawyer, visit the Super Lawyers’ directory of highly experienced birth injury attorneys. See our overview of birth injury cases to learn more about this area of law and medical malpractice claims.
Additional Birth Injury articles
- What is Birth Injury Law?
- Cerebral Palsy: Causes, Symptoms, and Legal Considerations
- Head and Brain Birth Injuries: Legal Options and Potential Lawsuits
- The Legal Process and Timeline in Birth Injury Lawsuits
- Preparing for a Birth Injury Lawsuit: What You Need to Know
- How to Prove Liability in Birth Injury Cases
- Was My Baby's Injury Due to Medical Negligence?
- When to Consult a Birth Injury Attorney: Key Considerations
- How Do I Prove Medical Malpractice in a Birth Injury Lawsuit?
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