In some professions, mistakes have fatal consequences. Losing focus during surgery, ignoring a patient’s allergy chart, or misreading test results may all result in life-changing injuries. Medical errors account for some of the most serious medical malpractice cases arising in civil court. Studies indicate that medical malpractice claimants often suffered 17 times more damages than average personal injury claimants, and medical errors often lead to wrongful deaths.
Injuries sustained by mothers and infants during gestation or birth, such as birth trauma or mistakes, often cause permanent disabilities and infertility. A medical malpractice attorney might help injured patients, including mothers and children, obtain needed compensation if a medical error resulted in personal or birth-related injuries.
Most Common Medical Errors in the United States
Despite undergoing years of training, doctors and other medical professionals make mistakes. Nurses, pharmacists, specialists, or even medical software may catch these potential errors before they impact patients, and some errors cause little to no harm. However, certain mistakes can result in extreme emotional distress, disabilities, prolonged illnesses, or even death. The following five medical errors commonly cause preventable injuries and related financial damages in the United States.
Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis
Healthcare professionals cannot treat patients without first diagnosing their ailments. Because many injuries and illnesses have similar symptoms, doctors must generally consider various factors before diagnosing patients. The diagnostic process often includes taking a thorough family and personal medical history, thinking about symptoms holistically, and asking patients about their work environment, diet, stress-level, and related factors.
Doctors commonly miss important diagnoses because they do not take detailed family histories or spend enough time sitting with patients. Some healthcare institutions and insurers even encourage this practice to maximize the number of patients doctors can see (and bill for) each day.
Missing a critical diagnosis or treating patients for conditions they do not have can cause new illnesses or worsen the underlying disease.
Medical professionals often overlook and misdiagnose the following illnesses during initial consultations:
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Congestive heart failure
- Lyme’s Disease
- Renal (Kidney) failure
Peer-reviewed medical studies indicate that nearly 80 percent of all diagnostic mistakes stemmed from doctor-patient interactions, including inadequate history-taking procedures, negligent physical examinations, and failures to order or review diagnostic tests. While doctors cannot always get it right, they can eliminate certain conditions and gather enough information to refer patients to relevant specialists as necessary.
Surgical and Anesthesia Errors
Did you know doctors have performed operations on the wrong patient and body parts? Extreme fatigue, intoxication, and carelessness often contribute to these rare mistakes, but they do happen. More common surgical errors, including leaving tools in patients, failing to sterilize equipment, and causing nerve damage, may trigger medical malpractice litigation.
However, patients often fail to immediately recognize surgical errors, as doctors commonly attribute reported symptoms to post-surgical complications. Pain, redness, itching, and swelling generally accompany healing incisions but could indicate infections and other surgical mistakes.
There’s a reason anesthesiologists must attend to patients during surgery. The medication used to put patients completely under while in surgery is so dangerous that most patients cannot breathe without aid. Miscalculating the dosage could result in brain damage (including stokes, anoxic brain injuries, and coma), heart failure, kidney and liver damage, and death.
Misplacing the patient’s breathing tube, called intubation errors, can also cause trachea (windpipe) damage, suffocation, and broken teeth. Serious windpipe damage may result in the need for a permanent tracheostomy and feeding tube. While regional anesthesia (an epidural during labor) has fewer risks, it requires injecting the medication directly into the spinal cord. Patients may suffer from spinal and related nerve damage from this procedure.
Most Americans do not have universal health charts. Patients must generally report all prescription and over-the-counter medications taken to each new treating physician. Sometimes different doctors prescribe medicines that cannot interact but have no means of catching the error. Pharmacists will occasionally review automated system warnings for high-risk drug cocktails, but this does not detect many typical prescription drug mistakes.
Before prescribing a new medication or recommending vitamins and non-prescription drugs, doctors must review the side effects and interaction warnings. This process includes considering whether certain medications may harm fetuses or increase suicidal thoughts in postpartum depression patients.
Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage may cause:
- Kidney or liver failure
- Congenital disabilities or miscarriage
- Brain damage
- Loss of awareness
- Vomiting and suffocation
- Stopped breathing
- Blood poisoning
Dosage calculation errors, including misplacing the decimal point for monitored IV-medications, have similar effects to controlled substance overdoses. Too much medication can drastically reduce brain oxygen levels leading to comas, traumatic brain injuries, and death.
Defective Medical Products
The FDA does not regulate medical devices to the same extent as medications. Non-medical professionals, such as private medical device representatives, often assist doctors with the device installation during surgery. Orthopedic equipment, vaginal meshes, and pacemakers might all malfunction following installation, while defective surgical and external equipment could result in inaccurate test results or physical injuries. Some law firms focus on filing class action litigation against medical equipment companies for flawed devices. Many of these class actions address the injuries and illnesses caused by vaginal and bladder meshes previously utilized after birthing injuries.
Over 100,000 lawsuits alleged that a special transvaginal mesh used to treat stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP) caused infections, pain, and organ perforation. Some women needed hysterectomies, while others suffered from long-term incontinence. Numerous women struggling with postpartum SUI linked to birth errors received these mesh implants. Likewise, many mothers experience POP following a vaginal birth resulting in painful implants. Consider speaking with an attorney if you’re suffering following a traumatic birth and subsequent correction surgeries.
Prenatal and Delivery Errors
Gestation and childbirth oversights often underlie malpractice claims because they implicate each of the above medical errors, involve intense physical trauma, and necessitate both mother and infant care. Expectant mothers may find themselves overwhelmed by the various dietary and medical regulations required during pregnancy and shocked by postpartum changes.
Obstetricians, pediatricians, and certified midwives must provide dedicated care to the women and unborn children in their charge, as even minor oversights may cause their patients serious injuries.
Examples of Medical Negligence Occurring During Pregnancy
When expectant mothers arrive for their first prenatal visit, they often undergo various tests and physical examinations. These tests check for evidence of common complications arising during pregnancy, assess the expectant mother’s risk factors for developing these conditions, and ultimately help doctors recommend prenatal vitamins and develop plans to prevent pregnancy complications.
During this comprehensive appointment, experienced OBGYNs should:
- Draw blood to check for common immunities, vitamin deficiencies, anemia, and potential blood incompatibility with the fetus (Rh disparities)
- Check urine for infections, sugar (indicating gestational diabetes), proteins, and blood
- Test and look for STDs
- Perform a pap smear to check for common cancers and abnormalities
- Conduct an initial prenatal ultrasound
- Take a comprehensive personal and family medical history, especially related to genetic disorders, diabetes, and complications arising during previous pregnancies
- Provide mothers with a specialized diet, prenatal vitamin recommendations, and warnings about taking certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs
Mistakes during the initial appointment, such as failing to order recommended tests, often lead to the following preventable illness and injuries:
Even the healthiest women may suddenly develop gestational diabetes, which typically resolves following birth. Close to ten percent of expectant mothers get this condition and require personalized diets, exercise regimens, or medications. Unmanaged diabetes can result in preterm labor, C-sections, stillbirths, infant breathing difficulties, and hypoglycemia in children. Failing to test and monitor expectant mothers for this condition often gives rise to medical malpractice claims.
Fetuses often have different blood types than their mothers. These disparities may cause miscarriages or placenta damage when the mother has a negative blood type (O-, A-, B-, or A.B.-), and the fetus has a positive blood type (O+, A+, B+, or AB+).
If Rh-positive blood from the placenta gets into the mother’s bloodstream, the mother’s body will recognize the foreign substance and begin attacking the fetus’s cells. This maternal immune response often results in fetal death, but doctors can easily prevent this condition with a single RhoGAM shot. This injection effectively protects the fetus from the mother’s immune attack. Neglecting to test the mother’s blood type and recommend a RhoGAM injection often constitutes medical malpractice.
Systemic bacterial infections, whether present before or during pregnancy, may lead to congenital disabilities, miscarriage, or premature labor. They might also threaten the mother’s life. Simple urine and blood tests can reveal treatable bacterial infections, as can prenatal gynecological examinations and biopsies. It’s generally safe to take necessary antibiotics, including amoxicillin, during pregnancy. Failing to test for, identify, and treat womb and related infections during pregnancy may give rise to healthcare negligence claims.
Poor Fetal Development
Pregnant women typically receive two medical ultrasounds during healthy pregnancies. The first ultrasound can show any significant abnormalities involving the mother’s uterus, amniotic sac, or placenta. At this stage, it’s generally too early to identify any potential issues with the child. Medical professionals perform a second ultrasound early in the third trimester, provided the pregnancy progresses smoothly.
During this ultrasound, doctors can identify the child’s gender and check development. This ultrasound appointment typically includes identifying signs of genetic conditions or physical abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome, developmental delays, or spinal cord defects.
If parents report a family history of certain genetic disorders, doctors should recommend an additional screening ultrasound during the second trimester. Missing clear signs of congenital abnormalities or developmental delays on ultrasounds often supports malpractice litigation based on a missed diagnosis. Parents might demand compensation from the physician’s insurance providers for their child’s unique needs, including medical equipment, special schooling, and therapy.
Protein in urine during pregnancy may indicate preeclampsia, a potentially fatal condition for the mother and child. Preeclampsia generally develops late in the mother’s third trimester, but many women do not have serious symptoms. For this reason, doctors must monitor for this condition during follow up visits.
Preeclampsia causes high maternal blood pressure and can damage organ systems, especially the kidneys and liver, and cause death if left untreated. The only treatment, however, is immediate delivery. Most mothers diagnosed with preeclampsia are induced or undergo an emergency C-section. If medical professionals missed clear signs of preeclampsia or failed to take urgent action, families might recover damages for resulting injuries to the mother and child.
Environmental Damage to Fetal Development
The list of dietary restrictions applicable to pregnant women changes each year. As such, expectant mothers rely on medical professionals to tell them which foods, drinks, substances, and medications to avoid. Mothers should not take certain common over-the-counter medicines, including ibuprofen, during pregnancy.
The makers of Advil explicitly advise against taking their medication during pregnancy; however, women commonly use ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin) to relieve menstrual symptoms. Doctors should ask expectant mothers about any medications they take and warn them about pregnancy risk factors. Medical professionals should also take a thorough personal history and discuss alcohol consumption, smoking, preferred foods, vitamins, and hazardous chemical use.
Failing to take a detailed personal history or provide essential environmental warnings could result in the following conditions:
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- Low amniotic fluid
- Premature birth
- Fetal heart defects
- Physical abnormalities
- Delayed fetal brain development and brain damage
- Future infertility and menstrual disorders
- Abnormally low birth weight
- Spontaneous miscarriage
- Compromised infant immune system
- Stunted growth
- Fetal nerve disorders
Certain prescription drugs might also have these side effects, and doctors may commit malpractice by prescribing these medications to pregnant women. If you or your child experienced any of the above conditions, consider discussing your case with a local medical malpractice and birth injury lawyer.
Injuries Sustained During Labor and Delivery Due to Malpractice
While labor is natural, it’s still dangerous for mothers and children. Even uncomplicated pregnancies may result in long-term disabilities due to labor and delivery errors. Mothers may sustain the following injuries or illnesses due to medical negligence during the birthing process.
Maternal Nerve Damage
The intense physical pressure required to deliver a child may result in back and nerve damage if nurses position the mother incorrectly. Applying too much force to the mother’s legs during delivery may result in painful muscle and nerve conditions necessitating rehabilitation. Misplaced epidural shots can also cause direct spinal cord damage. While new moms commonly experience weakness and back pain in the days following labor, birth should not generally result in nerve damage. Sudden sharp pains, tingling, and numbness may indicate postpartum nerve and spine injuries that will not typically resolve without treatment.
Cerebral Palsy (C.P.)
Considered the most common childhood motor disability, cerebral palsy affects infant brain development and movement. C.P. may occur during labor if birthing trauma suddenly cuts off the infant’s oxygen supply. Failing to identify and perform timely C-sections for children with broad shoulders, high birth weights, or incorrect birthing positions may result in temporary suffocation. Even a few minutes without oxygen causes brain cell death, resulting in permanent movement and communication difficulties. Improperly utilizing vacuums and forceps during birth might also cause cerebral hemorrhaging and brain injuries. If testing indicates your child has cerebral palsy and you experienced a traumatic birth, consider scheduling a medical malpractice case review.
Umbilical Cord Injuries
During fetal development, infants obtain the oxygen and nutrients needed for growth from their umbilical cords. This blood-rich supply line connects the infant to the placenta and acts as pre-birth life support. Damage to the umbilical cord may result in poor fetal development, brain damage, and stillbirth. It might also wrap around the infant’s limbs or neck during the birthing process resulting in limb death (amputations) and suffocation.
Many birth-related injuries and infant deaths arise from the following umbilical cord injuries:
- Knotting – Generally occurs during the third trimester or labor as the child moves around in the womb. Identical twins have a higher chance of suffering from dangerous umbilical cord knots, which can decrease their oxygen supply and cause brain damage or death. If the cord knots tightly during labor, doctors should notice an abnormal fetal heart rate and recommend an emergency C-section. Failure to quickly address cord knots during birth may result in preventable birth injuries.
- Overcoiling (torsion) – Like knots, cord torsion occurs when the umbilical cord coils over itself and cuts off the infant’s blood supply. Overcoiling may cause fetal death or severe disabilities if not addressed immediately.
- Prolapse – The child’s head should come first during natural birth, followed by the feet, umbilical cord, and placenta. Cord prolapse occurs when the umbilical cord slips into the birthing canal before the child, and the child compresses the cord (and resulting blood and oxygen flow) during labor. Trained medical professionals can correct this prolapse by repositioning the umbilical cord and child before late-stage labor or performing a C-section. Failure to recognize and correct umbilical cord prolapse before the child enters the birthing canal may result in stillbirth and brain damage. Labor and delivery professionals should always check for cord prolapse and take decisive action to prevent injuries.
- Compression – Nearly one in ten births involve umbilical cord compression. This condition occurs when the child, placenta, or vaginal walls compress a poorly positioned umbilical cord and cut off the child’s oxygen supply. Medical professionals can often reduce this pressure by injecting saline into the womb, increasing the mother’s oxygen supply, or, if necessary, performing a C-section. Failing to closely monitor the fetus for signs of increased heart rate and distress may result in stillbirths or brain damage.
- Nuchal (neck) cord – During late-stage fetal development and labor, the cord may wrap around the child’s next or limbs. Nuchal cords occur in about one-third of pregnancies. Doctors may quickly untangle loosely wrapped cords as the child exits the womb without any resulting injuries. However, healthcare professionals may fail to recognize signs of fetal distress due to tightly wrapped umbilical cords or delay performing a necessary C-section. Failing to address fetal distress due to nuchal cords and take emergency action may support medical malpractice litigation for birth injuries.
Many birth-related injuries and deaths stem from poorly managed umbilical cord trauma. With proper monitoring and decisive action, healthcare professions can generally prevent serious umbilical cord injuries and fetal distress. Consider speaking with a birth injury lawyer near you if your child sustained preventable injuries due to cord trauma.
Maternal Infections and Uterine Damage
Despite being a standard procedure, C-sections are traumatic surgeries. Doctors may rush mothers into the operating room, and some have even performed emergency C-sections in the delivery room. Poorly executed cesarean sections might result in maternal infections, organ damage, or infertility. Sometimes hysterectomies accompany C-sections when physicians cannot stop maternal hemorrhaging. Large cesarean scars may also become infected.
Stillbirths and Wrongful Death
North America has low infant and maternal death rates due to increased medical knowledge and procedures. However, medical negligence during birth can result in sudden death. Traumatic stillbirths rarely occur absent gross medical malpractice, but sometimes doctors cannot prevent infant deaths due to strokes, outside trauma (car accidents), or undiagnosable medical conditions. Families should speak with legal professionals about filing wrongful death claims after late-stage miscarriages, stillbirths, and maternal deaths potentially linked to medical neglect. Hospitals, physicians, nurses, midwives, and birthing centers may all bear malpractice liability in such cases.
Healthcare Professions and Entities Potentially Liable for Medical Negligence
Malpractice claims only arise when claimants allege that licensed professionals caused preventable injuries. These cases often involve licensed medical, legal, mechanical, and financial professionals. Every state has different standards governing the licensing of healthcare specialists and facilities. If the state requires licensure as regulated by a government entity or national association, claimants may generally file malpractice litigation for injuries sustained due to professional neglect.
Licensed healthcare professionals subject to malpractice claims typically include:
- Doctors (M.D. or O.D.)
- Nurses (R.N.)
- Nurse practitioners (N.P.)
- Physicians’ assistants (P.A.)
- Birthing centers
- Doctor’s offices
Unlicensed professionals, such as nurses’ aids or administrative professionals, are typically not subject to malpractice litigation. Claimants may, however, file medical negligence claims against their healthcare employers or licensed medical supervisors. Consider asking a local birth injury lawyer to review your claims if multiple parties contributed to your injuries or you utilized a midwife.
Understanding Medical Malpractice Claims
Not every birth injury occurs due to physician error. Even the healthiest pregnancies may result in unexplained miscarriages or unpreventable umbilical cord trauma. Medical malpractice claims arise when patients, including mothers and infants, of licensed medical professionals sustain reasonably preventable injuries due to neglect. Attorneys generally consider what another reasonably competent medical professional would have done in the same situation to determine whether claimants have actionable malpractice cases, setting the standard of care applicable to the claim.
Setting the Standard of Care in Birth Injury Cases
In nearly all birth injury cases, one or more medical professionals in the same specialty must testify against the claimant’s healthcare providers. These testifying professionals should practice medicine in the same specialty and geographic area as the allegedly negligent physician. They should also be similar in age and medical experience. This healthcare expert reviews the medical records and subsequently explains the accepted healthcare procedures applicable to the specific circumstances surrounding the claimant’s gestation, labor, and delivery.
They typically draw these conclusions based on:
- Professional experience
- Medical textbooks
- Peer-reviewed medical articles
- Medical records
- Patient’s testimony
- Photographs and ultrasounds
- Testimony from nurses and other healthcare witnesses
- Lab results
Importantly, the expert must consider any challenging and emergency circumstances surrounding the pregnancy and birth. These unique factors may include the treating doctor’s time to prepare for delivery and available resources. For example, the law does not hold E.R. physicians delivering children in ambulances to the same standard as experienced OBGYNs.
The bulk of medical malpractice litigation centers on developing the standard of care applicable in each case and then debating whether the treating provider violated that standard. Every case involves unique facts and often necessitates professional medical expertise. Medical malpractice lawyers typically review the credentials for and obtain suitable healthcare experts to partner with them during birth injury litigation.
Proving Treating Physicians Violated Accepted Healthcare Standards
The court will decide the accepted standard of care if the parties cannot agree. Judges might also request additional testimony from neutral medical experts if necessary. Once the court sets the standard of care, the plaintiff must prove that the healthcare provider fell below this threshold.
Evidence of healthcare neglect may include a lack of standardized medical records, such as family history questionnaires or lab results, or testimony from nurses and other healthcare providers. It might also involve direct testimony from the patient about her healthcare visits and complaints. Sometimes medical experts can pick up healthcare neglect right from the mother’s medical records. For example, test results may clearly show evidence of protein in the urine (indicating preeclampsia) without any ordered follow up.
In extreme cases, a legal principle called res ipsa loquitur may accelerate birth injury litigation. This principle allows the court to assume a healthcare professional violated the appropriate standard of care when no other plausible explanation for the injuries exists. An attorney may argue that the malpractice was res ipsa loquitur in cases involving maternal death, sudden stillbirths, infertility, and systemic uterine infections. This legal principle often appears in cases involving intoxicated or mentally unstable physicians, such as recently occurred in France after a woman died when a drunk anesthesiologist failed to administer oxygen and mediation during a C-section.
Showing the Birth Injuries Stemmed From the Malpractice
The medical errors must directly contribute to the injury or illness to recover financial compensation due to medical malpractice. Experts typically find multiple instances of malpractice after reviewing gestation and birth records. However, claimants cannot sue a physician for failing to perform standard genetic testing during pregnancy if the alleged injury involves a botched epidural. The malpractice must have substantially caused the resulting harm. However, this may include indirect damage if failing to perform urine tests during the first prenatal visit resulted in diabetic complications six months later.
Proving Damages Due to Medical Neglect During Pregnancy and Delivery
Lastly, malpractice claimants must show they would not have suffered the injuries but for the medical error. This process involves asking whether proper medical care would have substantially prevented or mitigated the injury or illness at issue. Doctors failing to recognize fatal genetic conditions on ultrasounds likely violated the medical standards applicable to prenatal care, for example. But if there was nothing medicine could have done to prevent stillbirth, the malpractice did not cause the eventual injury.
Financial Compensation Potentially Available After Birth-Related Medical Errors
The life and health of mothers and children have immeasurable value. Judges understand it’s impossible to fully compensate claimants for the pain and emotional suffering frequently associated with prenatal and birth injuries. In viable birth injury cases, claimants may demand compensation for financially calculable losses and incalculable damages.
Injured mothers or parents of affected children could request direct damages for the following past and future expenses:
- Medical bills
- Specialized schooling
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation costs
- Household and vehicle modifications
- Cognitive and emotional therapy
- Medical equipment and medications
- At-home nursing care
- Lost wages and earning capacity
- Costs of infertility treatment and adoptions
- Hormone treatments
Claimants, including injured children and caretakers, may also request additional pain and suffering (non-economic damages) for the following incalculable losses:
- Mental anguish
- Physical pain
- Psychological trauma
- Loss of cognitive capabilities
- Inability to enjoy life
An attorney may help families impacted by prenatal and birth errors demand needed compensation from malpractice insurers or judicial authorities. Medical malpractice lawyers might claim damages from hospitals, doctors, nurses, or labs if their professional errors resulted in birth injuries to mothers or children. In most states, midwives and birthing centers also bear liability for prenatal and labor errors. It often costs nothing to consult with and retain medical neglect attorneys in such cases. Legal professionals could request a financial settlement to help your child cope with their preventable birth injuries, including physical or cognitive disorders, or compensate injured mothers for their physical pain and loss stemming from birth-related trauma.