Medical Negligence Explained
Medical negligence occurs when medical professionals fail to meet the standard of care accepted by the medical community, resulting in injury or death to the patient. The standard of care refers to an appropriate level of caution, consideration and good judgment that should be exercised by medical professionals in various situations.
Close to 157,700 preventable injuries to mothers or their newborns occur during childbirth every year.
Though we all put our trust in the medical professionals who care for us, harm caused by medical negligence is an unfortunate reality. Medical negligence during birth can occur during complicated or normal deliveries alike.
Medical professionals need to be ready for complicated birthing situations and provide prompt medical treatment if something goes wrong. Sometimes doctors need to act quickly when the health of the mother or baby is in danger. Failing to act quickly in dangerous circumstances can be considered medical negligence.
Other forms of medical negligence include failure to diagnose health conditions in the mother or baby, misuse of birthing tools, failure to monitor the health of the baby following delivery or using unnecessary force during childbirth. Unfortunately, these complications can cause long-term or even permanent harm to babies or their mothers.
Medical negligence can cause several types of birth injuries:
- Erb’s palsy
- Fractures of the skull or collarbone
- Bleeding in the skull
- Ruptured blood vessels in the eyes
- Spinal cord injuries
- Bruising or swelling
- Brain damage resulting in developmental problems
- Cerebral palsy
What Leads to Medical Negligence?
Medical negligence can occur during pregnancy, birth or afterward. Any party involved in the birth, including the doctor, health care team or hospital may contribute to medical negligence.
Medical Negligence During Pregnancy
Medical negligence during pregnancy often involves a failure to diagnose conditions in the baby or the mother. Properly screening the mother before labor for high-risk conditions is vital to a safe birth. Doctors must diagnose and treat preeclampsia, diabetes and infections immediately since these conditions can cause serious harm to the mother and her baby.
For example, newborns are put at risk of serious brain damage when doctors fail to treat a maternal infection. Similarly, undiagnosed preeclampsia in the mother can result in liver failure, heart issues and seizures during pregnancy or delivery.
Medical Negligence During Birth
Various forms of medical negligence can occur during a complicated delivery:
- Failure to monitor the baby’s heartbeat and detect distress
- Failure to perform an emergency C-section when necessary
- Misuse of birthing tools during a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery
- Failure to prevent and control tearing and hemorrhaging in the mother
- Exerting too much force to pull or twist babies during delivery
Doctors must inform their patients of the risks involved in certain procedures before moving forward with them. Failure to tell a mother about the risks of using forceps or vacuum extraction can be considered medical negligence as well.
Medical Negligence After Birth
Children and mothers are still at risk of birth injury after delivery. Failure to control blood loss, monitor the baby’s oxygen levels, examine the baby for jaundice or test the baby and mother for Rh blood type incompatibility are considered medical negligence. Doctors must also immediately diagnose and treat uterine ruptures and tears in the mother to prevent infection and long-term medical issues.
Effects of Medical Negligence
Birth complications caused by medical negligence can have both short-term and long-term effects on mother and child.
Short-Term Effects for the Mother and Baby
For babies, medical negligence can result in several immediate issues, including:
- Neonatal jaundice
- Swelling and bruising
- Severe oxygen deprivation leading to asphyxia
- Blood pressure that is too high or too low
- Bone fractures
- Nerve damage
- Bleeding in the skull or under the scalp
Serious short-term effects of medical negligence for mothers include:
- Severe tears
- Injury to uterus, bladder or bowel
- Lack of control over urination
- Dangerously high or low blood pressure
- Blood loss
Fortunately, doctors can resolve many of these short-term injuries with proper treatment. Left untreated, the short-term effects of medical negligence can cause permanent damage and even become life-threatening.
Long-Term Effects for the Mother and Baby
Medical negligence can also result in debilitating, life-long problems such as cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy, kernicterus, spinal cord injuries and brain damage. For example, babies can develop cerebral palsy if medical professionals fail to recognize fetal distress during delivery and the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long.
Mothers are also at risk of long-term issues. For example, untreated infections can cause damage to their organs. Also, forceps or vacuum extraction complications can cause mothers to suffer from long-term problems with the pelvic floor including incontinence, pain and sexual problems.
It is not uncommon for mothers to experience post-traumatic stress disorder after a birth where medical negligence was involved. Even if the mother and her baby survive in good health, facing a life-threatening situation can cause lasting mental health problems.
In some cases, the complications caused by medical negligence can even result in death to the mother or baby.
Consequences of Medical Negligence
When medical negligence causes a birth injury, families often experience negative consequences beyond the medical condition. Learning that your baby has a medical problem is emotionally traumatic, especially when the injury was preventable. This can affect the long-term mental health and physical well-being of parents.
Many families also suffer from a reduced quality of life due to the financial consequences of a birth injury. Expensive ongoing assistance and the use of medical devices may be required to give children independence as they develop. Erb’s palsy, cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities often require lifelong therapy and medication.
Families suffer from a loss of income when a parent has to stay home to provide long-term care for their child. Providing ongoing care for a child injured during birth is extremely time-consuming and can prevent families from enjoying a high quality of life.
Financial Compensation for Medical Negligence
Parents may consider filing a birth injury lawsuit if doctors caused preventable harm during the birthing process. Claims can be made whether damage was caused by something the doctor did or by something they failed to do. However, filing a claim can be intimidating when you do not want to get your doctor or hospital in trouble.
Just remember, you should not have to suffer for the mistakes of trusted medical professionals.
Claims of medical negligence are essential for discovering what went wrong so it can be prevented from happening to others. These claims also help maintain a high standard of care in the medical community.
Parents may be able to receive financial compensation if their child or the mother suffered a birth injury caused by medical negligence. Financial compensation often covers both the economic loss to parents—including loss of income and medical expenses—as well as the emotional toll and hardship caused by the injury to families and their child.
If you suspect medical negligence occurred during the birth of your child, work with an attorney experienced in birth injury and medical negligence cases. Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center today at (800) 914-1562 to have your medical case reviewed for free.