Doctors, nurses, and other team members involved in bringing a child into the world have a responsibility to do all they can to keep mom and baby safe and healthy. Nearly all cases of birth injury result from a failure to uphold this duty. If you suspect your child’s birth injury was a preventable one, and you would like to hold the negligent person legally accountable for the harm caused, an experienced birth injury attorney can help.
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How Negligence Happens
Negligence during labor and delivery may occur when a doctor or other medical professional’s actions cause harm, or when failure to take the necessary steps results in preventable harm.
There are a number of different reasons why a medical professional may become negligent, including lack of training, fatigue, and plain old carelessness. A doctor may fail to use or read an infant heart rate monitor or other medical technology properly, or cause C-section injuries by deviating from the accepted procedural standards. Sometimes, labor and delivery staff may overlook certain warning signs of fetal distress.
If an obstetrician fails to order the proper testing to evaluate the mother’s health, or if test results are misread, this can also lead to a serious birth injury. If a doctor makes medication errors, it can cause irreparable harm to the baby.
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Types of Labor and Delivery Negligence
There are many different ways a doctor or medical worker can make a mistake and cause harm during birth. Examples of labor and delivery negligence include the following scenarios.
- Lack of oxygen to the brain (asyphxia) can cause a wide range of health issues, including brain damage, cerebral palsy, and breathing disorders.
- Use of excessive force can cause physical deformities like Erb’s palsy, cranial and spinal cord injury, bone injury and fractures, and infant brain damage.
- Failure to read heart rate monitor reports correctly can cause doctors to miss important signs of fetal distress.
- Failure to order a C-section at the right time can put a child in danger.
- Failure to take transmission-prevention steps in HIV-positive mothers can cause infection in children.
- Failure to treat high-risk pregnancies with necessary caution can cause birth injury.
- Misuse of vacuum extraction can cause vacuum birth injury
- Failure to prevent or treat umbilical cord strangulation can have fatal consequences.
Failure To Diagnose
As shown in a number of medical journals, getting a prompt and accurate diagnosis is a key part of treating any condition. When the condition occurs in a pregnant mother or developing fetus, missing a diagnosis or giving the wrong diagnosis can be life-threatening or life-altering for both the mother and the baby.
If your doctor failed to diagnose a significant condition and your child sustained additional injuries or endured unnecessary pain and suffering because of it, you may be able to pursue legal action to hold the doctor or hospital liable and recover compensation to help you pay medical bills, ongoing care costs, and more.
What Is Failure To Diagnose?
Failure to diagnose is a type of medical malpractice that occurs when a doctor does not follow the proper protocols to reach a diagnosis, and the patient suffers additional pain, illness, or harm as a result. When a failure to diagnose results in a birth injury, the medical problem the doctor failed to identify could affect either the mother or the child.
This could include:
- Congenital abnormalities in the baby
- Infection in the mother or baby
- Gestational diabetes
- Problems with fetal growth and development
- Issues with the placenta or umbilical cord
- Birth injuries in the newborn
The failure to diagnose a condition during pregnancy, delivery, or after birth can result in a wide range of repercussions for the mother, and possibly the child. For example, if the doctor fails to diagnose spina bifida in a developing fetus, the parents will not be able to opt for surgery to repair the child’s spine during pregnancy. Children who undergo this type of procedure generally have fewer physical challenges than those who have repair surgery after birth.
In general, you will likely need assistance from a medical expert witness to pursue medical malpractice damages in this type of case. Your attorney can help you understand how to prove medical malpractice and pursue compensation in your failure to diagnose case.
Determining the Truth
When were signs of distress discovered? Who was in charge of fetal monitoring? Were changes in condition reported to the correct physician and how were they handled? Does the chronological timeline of your child’s delivery make sense?
Your birth injury attorney should be able to evaluate labor and delivery reports to identify signs of negligence. He should have a deep understanding of the C-section standards set forth by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Finally, he should work with other medical experts to investigate your child’s birth and discover if medical mistakes occurred during delivery.
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Doctor and Birth Injury Negligence Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Doctor And Birth Injury Negligence?
Doctors have a duty to provide an acceptable standard of care, following all protocols and procedures, and treating patients to the best of their abilities based on their training and education. When a doctor behaves carelessly or negligently, and their patient suffers injuries because of it, this may constitute medical malpractice.
In obstetrics, doctors must care for two patients—the mother and the child—throughout the pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Failure to monitor the growing fetus, and later on the infant, could cause serious injuries and lasting disabilities.
A doctor may commit birth injury negligence by:
- Failing to recognize signs of cephalopelvic disproportion
- Failing to diagnose congenital conditions
- Failing to call for a cesarean section (C-section) when needed
- Failing to closely monitor the baby during labor and delivery
- Failing to recognize or take action regarding other birth injury risks
- Failing to follow all procedures and policies throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery
There are many additional ways a doctor could make a medical error and cause a child to suffer a birth injury. This type of negligence could support a valid medical malpractice case. Your attorney will work closely with a medical expert witness to prove negligence in your case.
When Is Fetal Distress Diagnosed?
Most cases of fetal distress are diagnosed based on an abnormal fetal heart rate. An abnormal fetal heart rate is diagnosed through careful and continual monitoring of your unborn child’s heart rate. Your baby’s heart rate is usually monitored using one of the following two methods:
- Continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring
- Doppler ultrasound fetal heart monitoring
A member of your health care team will use a medical device to check your unborn child’s heart rate every fifteen minutes. These checks will likely be performed during early labor and following each contraction during late labor.
Defining and Treating Fetal Distress
Fetal Distress denotes any signs before and during the process of childbirth that gives the indication that your unborn baby is not doing well. It is an unusual impediment to typical labor and most often occurs when your unborn son or daughter is not receiving enough oxygen.
In some cases where Fetal Distress is diagnosed, it can be treated, corrected, or resolved in one of the following ways:
- You will be given oxygen during labor
- The amount of fluids you are given intravenously will be increased
- You might be asked to turn and position yourself on either side
When your doctor detects an abnormal heart rate in your unborn son or daughter, he may employ these remedies to correct your child’s heart rate and ensure safe delivery.
How Is Fetal Distress Detected?
While you are in labor, your OBGYN, midwife, or other members of your medical team will measure your baby’s heart rate. If fetal distress is detected, it will be through testing that measured an abnormal heart rate pattern in your unborn baby.
Fetal heart rate monitoring is used to measure the heart rate and rhythm of your unborn child and to let your doctor assess how your baby is doing. Changes to your baby’s fetal heart rate could indicate that they are not getting enough oxygen. Fetal heart rate monitoring can be either internal or external.
The external monitoring method uses a Doppler ultrasound device to listen to and record your baby’s heartbeat through your abdomen. Your doctor may use a monitor during your prenatal visits and during your labor. The device is fastened to your abdomen and transmits the sounds of your baby’s heartbeat to a computer where it is shown on a screen and printed on paper.
The internal monitoring method uses a thin electrode fastened to your baby’s scalp, run through your cervix, and connected to a fetal monitor. Internal monitoring gives better readings than external monitoring because factors like movement do not affect it. It can only be used if your water has broken and your cervix is dilated.
What Should Be Considered Following A Fetal Distress Diagnosis?
Fetal distress is a complication you and your unborn child might experience during your labor. It usually occurs when your fetus fails to receive a sufficient supply of oxygen. During your labor, your baby’s heart rate is monitored to ensure their oxygen levels remain steady.
Fetal distress is a serious concern for you and for your unborn baby. Some issues that should be considered following a fetal distress diagnosis include:
- Whether you should have been given additional oxygen
- Whether oxytocin was used to stimulate contractions
- Whether your baby should be born using C-section versus vaginal delivery
When your unborn child is diagnosed with fetal distress, your medical team should consider the measures that will ensure a safe delivery for your child.
Fetal Monitoring Can Protect Your Unborn Baby
Shortly after you are admitted to the hospital, a doctor or other health care professional will listen to your unborn baby’s heartbeat. Either a special type of stethoscope, called a fetoscope, or a handheld Doppler will be used to listen to your baby’s heart. Your medical team performs this important monitoring to determine whether your baby’s heart rate is normal. They want to know if your baby is in distress because some abnormalities can indicate that your baby is not receiving enough oxygen. Your baby’s heart rate can be monitored in several ways:
- Externally using a device attached to your abdomen that sends and receives ultrasound waves.
- Internally using an electrode, a small round sensor attached to a wire, inserted through your vagina and attached to the scalp of your unborn baby.
Because adverse medical conditions must be considered following a fetal distress diagnosis, fetal monitoring is used to continuously monitor your contractions. During the first stage of labor, your baby’s heart rate is monitored periodically. During the second stage of labor, your baby’s heart rate is monitored following each contraction.
Can Fetal Distress Be Mistaken For Other Ailments Or Diseases?
When the term fetal distress is used, it simply means your unborn child is not handling part of the labor process well. Your baby is not getting the amount of oxygen he needs, or the strength and intensity of your contractions are negatively affecting his heart rate. Fetal distress can be mistaken for other ailments or diseases as well.
Poor oxygen supply and umbilical cord issues are the most common contributors to birth asphyxia. When the medical providers caring for you and your baby understand the cause of the asphyxia, they are better able to treat it.
How Physicians Define and Treat Fetal Distress
Fetal distress refers to the signs and symptoms that indicate that your unborn child is not doing well before or during labor. It can occur when your pregnancy lasts longer than forty-two weeks or when your contractions are too close together.
Fetal distress is detected by measuring your unborn baby’s heart rate. An abnormal heart rate is an indicator of fetal distress. When fetal distress is detected in your child, it is treated by supplying you with extra oxygen, increased intravenous fluid, repositioning you onto one side, or by delivering your baby as quickly as possible.
Can Fetal Distress Be Avoided During A Pregnancy?
Fetal distress can be avoided during pregnancy. Doctors can administer tocolysis to avoid fetal distress in the second stage of labor. Tocolysis can stop or slow contractions, promoting fetal oxygenation. When your baby receives more oxygen, there is less of a chance of fetal distress.
Monitoring Your Infant’s Heartbeat
The typical first sign of fetal distress is an abnormal heart rate. Throughout your pregnancy and during your labor, doctors will monitor your unborn baby’s heartbeat to be sure he is coping with the stresses of labor well. Any abnormality they notice during fetal heart monitoring can alert them to potential concerns. When your baby’s heartbeat varies from the norm, doctors will look for the cause. Potential causes could be as simple as your unborn child’s response to contractions, other internal changes, or as complex a disruption in their supply of oxygen.
Fetal heart monitoring can be non-invasive and involve a member of your medical team observing your baby’s heartbeat with a device called a Doppler, right through your belly. A Doppler is often used during your prenatal visits and during labor to measure your baby’s heart rate. The doppler is secured to your belly and sends the sounds of your baby’s heart to a computer where it is displayed on a screen and printed on paper.
Fetal heart monitoring can also be conducted internally using a thin wire called an electrode which is placed on your baby’s scalp. The electrode extends from your baby’s scalp, through your cervix, and is connected to a monitor. Internal fetal heart monitoring provides better readings because it is not affected by factors like your baby’s movements. Fetal heart monitoring can only be done internally if your water has broken and your cervix is open. It sometimes becomes an option when external monitoring fails to produce a good reading.
When Is Fetal Distress Most Likely to Occur During a Pregnancy?
Hearing that your baby is in fetal distress can make you feel stressed and anxious. Fetal distress means something is cutting your baby off from the oxygen he needs. Fetal distress is most likely to occur during pregnancy when:
- Your due date was more than two weeks before your labor started
- Your labor is unusually long, or you don’t have a break between contractions
As your medical team will explain to you, an abnormal heart rate in your unborn child is usually the first indication of fetal distress.
How Fetal Distress Is Identified
The first sign of fetal distress is usually a change of heartbeat in your unborn child that shows up during monitoring. Your baby’s heartbeat will be checked during labor the same way it was monitored during your regular prenatal visits. Your doctor or nurse will press a handheld doppler against your belly to hear your baby’s heart. During labor, they might also use a different kind of belted doppler to get a constant reading.
Can Fetal Distress occur more than once throughout a pregnancy?
Fetal distress is recognized as an abnormality of the child’s heart rate, before, during and after birth. Hearing that your child is having a problem with their heart can transform typical labor and delivery into a stressful one and cause for concern. You are likely to have many questions once fetal distress has been detected in your unborn child. One of those questions will be to wonder whether fetal distress can occur more than once throughout a pregnancy.
As your unborn baby is monitored during labor, doctors might notice three different kinds of acute fetal distress, each occurring at a different time.
- Antepartum hypoxia is when your baby’s heart rate does not respond to stimulation
- Intrapartum asphyxia is when your baby’s heart rate rises when you have a contraction
- A sudden negative reaction that causes your baby’s heart rate to drop quickly and stay low until their birth
Fetal monitoring is an important part of the process of labor and delivery. Your physician can help you understand how fetal distress can occur more than once throughout pregnancy, and how each instance of fetal distress might affect your unborn son or daughter.
How Can Fetal Distress Affect A Pregnancy?
Fetal distress refers to signs before and during childbirth that indicates your unborn child may not be well. It is an unusual complication of labor and most often happens when your baby is not receiving enough oxygen. Fetal distress can happen when your pregnancy lasts too long or your labor is too rapid.
When fetal distress is detected during labor, it might be alleviated by giving you extra oxygen or increasing amounts of intravenous fluids. You might also be repositioned onto one side or the other and given analgesics.
If none of these methods work, fetal distress may affect a pregnancy because your unborn child may require an immediate delivery using a vacuum extractor, forceps, or C-section delivery, each of which comes with its own set of risks. Additionally, the stress of fetal distress might cause your unborn baby to breathe in amniotic fluid that contains some of their own meconium. When your baby inhales meconium, they might have difficulty breathing or may even stop breathing.
Doctor and Hospital Birth Injury Negligence News
Illinois Mother Receives Record-Breaking Payout For Hospital’s Negligence
ABC7 reported on a victory for a single mother whose child was injured due to a hospital’s negligence. She has won a record-breaking $101 million in her lawsuit as well as an agreement for no further appeals.
The judge ruled that the child’s injuries were caused by the hospital because they ignored the mother. The single mother went to the hospital ER because she could no longer feel her unborn baby moving. An ultrasound confirmed it, but it was not reported to a doctor for five hours.
When the baby was born, he needed to be resuscitated. He had permanent brain damage. The baby, who is now five, cannot speak, eat, or sit up on his own. His mother had to turn him over to a charity for care last year because she could no longer stay at home to care for him.
The jury awarded what they felt was enough money so the child could be cared for full-time at home for the remainder of his life and so the mother can help. It is the largest such award in Illinois.
We are glad that the jury sided for the mother after this month-long trial. Five hours of delay in this type of case is horrifically negligent.
Pennsylvania Hospital Searching For Bacteria Source After Three Babies Die
Hospitals, despite cleaning protocols, can be a hotbed of infection. One hospital in Pennsylvania is searching for the source of a waterborne germ that infected eight premature babies and killed three. ABC 6 reported on the search.
So far, three babies have died, four have recovered, and one is still undergoing treatment at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. The hospital has sent other newborns and some mothers to another facility while they search for the source of the infection. State and federal officials are helping in the search.
The bacteria the children faced is common and usually doesn’t cause an infection. However, in people with fragile immune systems, it can cause a problem.
The hospital is diverting children born less than 32 weeks and mothers expected to give birth before then to other facilities. They have been aware of the infection since August.
Water supplies and surfaces in the NICU have turned up negative for the bacteria, but they have increased their sterilization measures. The facility’s NICU sees 600 children a year.
We commend the hospital for stepping up their measures to find the source and to involve officials in the matter. However, we hope that the mothers of the children who died due to this infection can receive compensation for their loss.
This will depend on where the source of the infection came from. If the hospital was negligent in cleaning something, they could be held liable.
California OB-GYN Accused Of Negligence
Giving birth is one of the riskiest times for a mother’s health. We depend on doctors and other medical professionals to take care of us during this time. But childbirth mortality is rising in the nation. People has a story that shows some of the blame is due to doctors.
According to the story, Dr. Arthur Park was helping a woman give birth in 2016. The complaint says that the doctor did not wait long enough to remove the placenta. It was still attached to the mother when he reached in and tried to pull it out. There was no pain medication and the patient was screaming.
However, the doctor merely described her as “agitated” and did not even consider summoning an anesthesiologist to add medication to the patient’s epidural. By pulling the placenta out too soon, the doctor perforated the woman’s uterus. Calls for an ultrasound or a blood transfusion were ignored even though nearby medical professionals said there was a problem.
Eventually, a second doctor move her to the ICU. She had two heart attacks and died seven hours later from the loss of blood.
The doctor’s license has been suspended twice in the 1990s and the lawsuit ask for a hearing to determine if Park’s license can be revoked. So far, no criminal charges have been filed in relation to the case.
Over $200 Million Awarded In Malpractice Suit That Gave A Baby Brain Injuries
It only took three hours for a six-member jury to award over $200 million to a family whose baby suffered a brain injury at birth. The Seattle Times has the story.
The defendant in the case was John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The reason for the award was bad advice from the doctors. The mother, Erica Byrom, was at 25 weeks of gestation when she developed severe preeclampsia. After admission, doctors told her that a C-section would cause her baby to die or suffer brain damage. However, a C-section was the safer option.
In October of 2014, the doctors induced labor. It took 22 hours for the baby to be born and the baby’s brain did not receive enough oxygen. Now the baby, Zubida, has cerebral palsy and microcephaly. She requires around-the-clock care.
The doctors of the hospital said that their hands were tied and that they informed Byrom of the risks of performing a traditional birth on multiple occasions. In the court records, the doctors claimed that they were prevented from performing a C-section due to the mother’s wishes. The facility plans to appeal the case.
Current Washington law limits the amount you can receive from a malpractice suit at $200 million. It remains to be seen if the appeal will lower the award. Until then, we hope that Zubida will receive damages in the meantime so she can get the care she needs after this incident.
Ask Your Doctor About The Risks Of Procedures
Sometimes the treatments a doctor recommends carries risks. It is up to the doctor to inform patients of those risks so their patients can make a decision on their own. This is one way they can reduce the chance of a negligence claim if something goes wrong.
Studies are a major method doctors use to determine which procedures carry risks. Here’s an example from Science Daily.
Premature babies are sometimes given drugs to force them to mature faster if they are at risk. An example is using corticosteroids to speed lung maturation. However, a study last year found that there is a clinically significant reduction in birth size when this technique is used.
While there was no difference in Apgar scores in the lower-birth-weight children, they did require more medical care during the first seven days of life. However, the drug dose did help the lungs to mature.
The study recommends that high-risk patients need to be identified early so that the benefits of corticoid steroid therapy before birth can be weighed against this clear downside.
If a doctor recommends a procedure you’re not familiar with, ask about the risks. You need to know them so you can make an informed choice about your care and the care of your baby.