How Often Does Medical Malpractice Occur in the Delivery Room?
Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran
Even though giving birth today is safer than ever before, birth-related injuries still make up a significant portion of the cases that end up on the desks of the medical malpractice attorneys at Cochran, Kroll & Associates each year.
Statistics indicate that out of every 1,000 infants born in the United States, 6 to 8 of those children suffer a birth injury. In other words, nearly one in every 9,714 children born will experience a birth injury. This translates to approximately 28,000 incidences per year, 2,333 per month, 76 per day, and 3 every hour across the United States.
In addition to this, USA Today reports that roughly 50,000 expectant mothers experience some form of birth-related injury during pregnancy or delivery. Of these, around 700 of those injuries result in fatalities. Experts predict that nearly half of the injuries that mothers sustain in birth could either be reduced or prevented if proper care was administered.
These statistics may seem shocking for individuals working outside of the medical field, but medical attorneys can attest that year after year, birth-related injuries consistently rank as one of the most common types of malpractice claims in the United States.
What is medical malpractice?
In Michigan, medical malpractice is defined as the harm that occurs when a healthcare provider – such as a doctor or other medical professional – causes an injury to the patient in their care through actions that do not adhere to the standard of care. This can include both failing to act and acting incorrectly or in a manner that another healthcare provider might under similar circumstances.
Malpractice or negligence can occur at various points throughout the process of receiving care, including diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, and health management.
Instances of birth medical malpractice are especially heinous, as the negligence of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals can result in injury, illness, death, or an otherwise critical outcome for both a mother and a child during the pregnancy or birth of that child.
What causes birth injuries in the United States?
With the modern devices, education, and techniques that are currently readily available to physicians in the US, preventable birth-related injuries to mothers and children should be an exceedingly rare occurrence: but they are not.
In fact, the US, in comparison with nations such as France and Germany – where birth-related injuries and fatalities have continued to decrease in recent years – is currently considered the most dangerous developed country for giving birth.
Why are American mothers and infants experiencing such devastating and disproportionate rates of birth-injuries in a country that has access to some of the most advanced medical technology and research in the world? And why do rates of injury continue to increase in the US while they seem to only diminish in other developed countries? The answer is simple: because of negligent care.
Though modern medicine should allow for delivery circumstances where preventable injuries are fewer, doctors and healthcare providers continue to commit negligent actions that put mothers and children at serious risk during various stages of pregnancy.
When do birth injuries occur?
Another commonly-held misconception in the US concerning preventable birth injuries is that injuries are always sustained during delivery: they are not. Many birth injuries can stem from issues that develop during pregnancy rather than during delivery.
Injuries incurred during prenatal care
Inadequate prenatal care is one of the lesser-known but still significant causal factors in the development of a birth-related injury during delivery.
Treatment for a woman who is pregnant should begin as soon as the pregnancy is discovered to allow for the proper care to mother and child and the best chances for an uncomplicated delivery.
Once the pregnancy is discovered, a physician should administer regular assessments that allow for the reduction of those risks associated with:
- Excess weight and obesity
- Small stature and build
- Gestational diabetes
- Issues with fetal growth
- Umbilical cord issues
- Multiple births (twins and triplets)
- Premature rupture of membranes
- Post-term pregnancy
- Age 35+
- Autoimmune disorders
- High and low blood pressure
- Insufficient iron or folic acid, among other nutritional deficiencies
These conditions result in what is typically referred to as a high-risk pregnancy. However, injuries can usually be mitigated if such conditions are recognized early and adequately monitored through tests throughout the pregnancy.
It is a woman’s obstetrician’s job to provide the standard of prenatal care necessary to help them assess possible risks that can occur during delivery and work to minimize trauma to the mother and child. Failing to properly monitor the state of the mother and child during pregnancy can result in complication during childbirth and possible, preventable birth injuries.
Injuries incurred during and after delivery
Though the pregnancy and delivery are, of course, both complicated processes that take their toll on women and infants, long-term damage is avoidable through quality medical care in many cases.
During delivery, it is the obstetrician and attending staff’s job to continually and regularly monitor the vitals of the mother and child and keep track of the labor patterns to analyze for possible complications.
This includes monitoring blood pressure and heart rate, as well as measuring the amount of blood lost to recognize signs of fetal distress, maternal distress, and situations in which a cesarean section is required for the health of the child and the mother.
What are the different types of birth-related medical malpractice, and how often do they occur?
Though the cases that lawyers specializing in medical malpractice in Michigan handle every day vary significantly, there are three general types of birth-related medical malpractice cases, including mother or infant birth injuries, wrongful birth, and wrongful pregnancy.
Of these, mother or infant birth injuries are the most commonly pursued in Michigan by the legal team at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates.
Mother or infant birth injuries
Mother or infant birth injuries can include injuries, illness, or death to the mother, to the child, to both, and emotional injury to the parents.
Of the 28,000 infants born with a birth injury in the US, the ten most common birth injuries include:
- Caput succedaneum | up to 2.5% of births each year
- Cerebral palsy | up to 10,000 babies born each year
- Perinatal asphyxia | between 2-8 babies in every 1,000
- Intracranial hemorrhaging | 1 in every 2,500 births
- Brachial plexus birth palsy | between 1 and 2 babies in every 1,000
- Spinal cord injury | accounts for 10 – 33% of neonatal fatalities
- Birth fractures | 1 in every 1,000 births
- Cephalohematoma | up to 2.5% of live births
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging | up to 2.9% of deliveries
- Facial paralysis | 7 infants in every 1,000
Birth injuries to a mother
Though statistics concerning birth injuries to the mother are a little less clear, some of the more common issues include:
Untreated gestational diabetes
Though it is not uncommon for a woman to develop gestational diabetes, if left untreated due to negligent prenatal care, it may lead to the development of preeclampsia and further health issues.
When left untreated, preeclampsia – a condition that results in consistently high blood pressure among other issues – can result in blindness, heart health issues and failure, strokes, seizures, liver problems, and post-natal hemorrhaging.
Uterine prolapse can occur when a physician fails to recognize the necessity of a cesarean section, resulting in the overstretching and weakening of the pelvic floor.
Misplaced epidurals and prolonged vaginal delivery are two examples of medical negligence that can result in postpartum nerve damage that reduce the strength, sensation, and functionality of a woman’s legs, both temporarily and permanently.
When do birth injuries lead to legal action?
Because the process of carrying and birthing a child can be complex, birth injuries are an unfortunate reality in the US, and not all injuries that are sustained during pregnancy or delivery are the result of malpractice.
In order for a birth injury to be considered the result of medical malpractice on behalf of a healthcare provider, it must include three key elements:
1. A deviation from the standard of care
An established standard of care in the US recognizes that there are medical standards in place within each profession that define acceptable medical treatment under similar circumstances by prudent health care professionals.
Patients have the right to be administered treatment that is in accordance with that standard of care. In instances where the actions (or lack of action) enacted by a doctor do not adhere to or meet those standards, it is considered medical malpractice.
2. Harm that resulted from that deviation
The second element that must be present to pursue a medical malpractice claim, the violation or deviation from the standard of care must have resulted in harm to the patient.
In other words, if the doctor acted negligently, but those actions did not cause harm, you cannot claim medical malpractice. For example, if the doctor pulled too hard on the child’s shoulders during birth, but no injuries resulted, it is not considered malpractice.
Though it may seem like a fairly straightforward element, this is when malpractice claims can become complicated, as the patient must be able to prove they sustained a significant injury and the injury was the result of the healthcare provider’s negligence.
In some cases, the negligence and the resulting injury are obvious. In others, proving the injury or proving that the injury would not have occurred if the mistake was not made can be difficult.
For example, if a baby suffers a birth fracture during delivery, it can be hard to prove the fracture resulted from negligence that was exhibited by the doctor and not simply an unfavorable outcome of the complicated birth process.
At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, our expert medical malpractice team is led by practice partner Eileen E. Kroll. Having worked as a nurse prior to a career as an attorney, Eileen brings her extensive medical expertise and experience to every case and handles all aspects of medical malpractice litigation, including birth trauma, to help victims substantiate their claims and achieve the damage they deserve.
3. Damages that resulted from the harm incurred
Finally, in order to pursue a claim, the injury that is incurred by the child, mother, or both must result in significant damages.
In general, medical malpractice lawsuits are expensive to pursue, as they involve expert testimony on behalf of various medical professionals and a significant number of deposition hours.
Even in cases where an individual can prove an injury that resulted from medical negligence, if the damages incurred are not substantial enough to allow for a compensation sum that is greater than the cost of litigation, it will difficult to pursue the claim.
To demonstrate the extent of the damages incurred, a patient must prove that their or their child’s injury resulted in an unusual amount of pain, a loss of income, suffering, hardship, or significant past and future medical bills, just to name a few.
What damages can arise from a labor and delivery malpractice claim?
Each case of birth-related medical malpractice is unique, and the damages will vary depending on the extent of the injuries to the mother and child. Damages may include:
- Past medical bills
- Future medical bills for continued treatment
- Special equipment for mobility and housing
- Lost income for the mother and partner
- Pain and suffering on behalf of the child and both parents
- Emotional damage and counseling
When it comes to seeking damages, the medical malpractice attorneys at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates P.C. are no strangers to achieving the compensation that parents and infants who have suffered a trauma of a birth injury deserve.
In fact, the legal team at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates holds the record for the largest compensation sum awarded in Michigan to a family that suffered the tragedy of negligent delivery room care that resulted in a case of cerebral palsy. The young couple was awarded a $15.8 million verdict with the help of the medical malpractice experts at Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. in Michigan.
Are damages capped in Michigan?
Michigan is one of the many states in the United States that has passed restrictions concerning the amount of damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case.
In Michigan, however, the cap that is in place only refers to the amount that can be awarded to plaintiffs for non-economic damages, which include compensation for pain and suffering, loss of quality of ability to enjoy life, stress, anxiety, and other emotional traumas. This “pain and suffering” damages cap is set at $445,500, though this can jump to $795,000 in certain, more extreme cases.
Seek legal justice for birth-related injuries
Having a child involves various unknowns: from the baby’s weight and height to their gender and looks. Your access to quality care by knowledgeable healthcare providers should not be one of those unknowns.
At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., we understand the trauma that can result from a birth injury to a mother and child during the delivery process. If you suspect that you or someone you love has been harmed by negligent medical care during delivery, contact our team of medical malpractice attorneys at 866-MICH-LAW to set up your free, confidential consultation and take the steps towards achieving the justice that you and your child deserve.
Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.