For over 30 years I have handled medical malpractice cases. The saddest and hardest cases I have ever seen are those involving childbirth. Typically, the birth of a child is a happy event. But things can go wrong and tragedies do happen.
One factor that makes childbirth cases especially difficult is that instead of a single patient, you have at least two patients, the mother and the baby (or babies as the case may be). Doctors must consider both patients, knowing that what is beneficial for one might have risks for the other. Going back to my days as a defense lawyer, I always thought that being an obstetrician was both the happiest – and scariest – job in medicine.
What can go wrong with childbirth? Sadly, the list is long - and what I have included below is not even close to being exhaustive:
Labor does not progress
Labor is the process of childbirth. Sometimes it goes on for an abnormally long period of time. For first-time mothers, failure to progress is described as labor lasting over 20 hours, whereas in mothers who have previously given birth, it is described as labor lasting more than 14 hours. There are many causes of prolonged labor.
This is the opposite of prolonged labor. Labor moves more quickly than expected. There are many risks to this, not the least of which is that the mother may not have enough time to get to a health care facility. The condition can also increase the risk of tearing and laceration to the cervix and vagina, hemorrhage and postpartum shock.
Fetal distress is a term used to describe a fetus who does not appear to be doing well. The causes of fetal distress include the baby not getting enough oxygen, low levels of amniotic fluid, pregnancy-related high blood pressure and many others. The danger to the baby can be huge. Sometimes an emergency C-section is needed.
This is a condition which can occur before, during or immediately following birth. The baby doesn’t get enough oxygen (asphyxia) and the consequences can be catastrophic.
Shoulder dystocia is where a baby’s shoulders get stuck during the delivery process. How to address this complication can be a tough call for a healthcare provider. The injuries relating from shoulder dystocia can result in a permanent upper extremity disability for the child.
About 4% of women will experience excessive bleeding following the delivery of a baby. If that bleeding is not promptly recognized and treated, shock and death can result.
Sometimes the position of the baby is not optimal for delivery. The healthcare providers need to recognize this and treat the patient accordingly.
The placenta lines the uterus. It is essentially the connection between the mother and the baby. Sometimes the placenta covers the opening of the cervix; this is referred to as placenta previa. Often a C-section is needed, and if one is not done promptly it can have serious consequences for both mother and baby.
Sometimes a baby's head is too large in relation to the mother’s pelvis and is simply unable to fit through it. This is called cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD). It occurs in about 1 in 250 pregnancies. It must be recognized early on.
If a woman has had a C-section delivery, the scar can tear open during a later pregnancy. This can be quite dangerous for both the baby and the mother.
As I stated above, this is not an exhaustive list of what can go wrong. The injuries involved can be catastrophic, involving life-long disabilities for the child or the mother. Evaluating a potential childbirth-related malpractice case requires an attorney with skill, judgment and adequate resources. An attorney has to be able to discern actual cases – ones where a healthcare provider’s negligence caused a genuine harm – versus complications. In all other areas of medicine, the fact that a patient’s outcome is disastrous does not mean that anyone did anything wrong. This statement is even truer in childbirth-related cases, which means you must have a lawyer who can understand the medicine.
At Rawls Law Group, we have the skills needed to work up very complex medical cases, including birth injuries. We handle Federal Tort Claims Act cases all over the country. Military hospitals deliver a lot of babies. If you or someone you know has had a bad outcome at such a facility, you can contact us. We can’t promise any particular outcome, except that we will always be honest with you and we will do our best.