The birth of a baby is one of the happiest occasions in a person’s life. After nine months of anticipation, parents can finally hold their bundle of joy in their arms. But childbirth can be fraught with danger, and if there is negligence by a hospital or physician, the culmination of a pregnancy can sometimes be tragic.
Today, we look at Cesarean deliveries and examine whether they are associated with medical malpractice. This article also describes the common types of childbirth injuries and the legal remedies available to you if you are a victim of medical negligence.
Cesarean Birth versus Vaginal Delivery
A woman can deliver vaginally even if she has had a Cesarean section before. Some of the medical indications for a Cesarean birth include a low birth weight baby, a baby that is too big to fit through its mother’s pelvis, a baby with heart rate variations during labor and other signs of distress, and failure of the labor to progress.
The majority of births take place via the vaginal route. However, as this study shows, in 2013 in the State of California, at some hospitals as many deliveries were performed via C-sections in low-risk women who did not need the surgery and could have delivered vaginally. In 2014, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that more than 30% of all deliveries in the United States are by Cesarean.
Cesarean Sections and Medical Malpractice
A vaginal delivery is natural, whereas a C-section is a surgery. Although natural childbirth is not without its dangers, when performed unnecessarily, a C-section exposes a woman and her baby to the risks of major surgery. C-sections can quickly become complicated and preventable mistakes can be made.
CDC data has shown that maternal complications associated with labor and delivery are highest in women having their first Cesarean section and lowest in women with vaginal deliveries and no previous Cesarean. Women who gave birth vaginally after a previous Cesarean delivery have a lower rate of complications than women who gave birth by repeat C-section. Of course, C-sections often become necessary due to maternal and/or fetal factors.
So, in essence, the data shows that C-section births are associated with maternal or fetal complications during labor.
When Would a C-Section Be Necessary?
Some mothers decide to have a C-section delivery even before they go into labor. In many cases, this is suggested to protect the health of both mother and baby, such as when the baby is known to be too big to deliver vaginally, there are multiple fetuses, or the mother has other medical complications that would make a vaginal birth too risky.
During a vaginal birth, your doctor may determine a C-section is necessary when the birth is difficult, taking too long, or endangering the life of the mother or child. This is a decision that needs to be made quickly and carefully to prevent injury to you and your newborn. Even when the decision is made in an emergency, your doctor must take care to perform the procedure properly.
Medical Negligence During Cesarean Deliveries
Different types of physician negligence can take place before C-section childbirth:
- Failure to notice fetal distress and perform a C-section in time to prevent birth injury
- Failure to recognize prenatal indicators that a vaginal delivery is not possible (medical conditions in which natural childbirth is dangerous or impossible)
- Failure to perform C-section when it is necessary (such as in a woman carrying multiple babies or a baby that is breech or transverse in position)
- Failure to perform the Cesarean surgery according to the standard of care, leading to injury to the baby or the mother
Common Childbirth Injuries
Lots of things can go wrong if an obstetrician deviates from the standard of care. Some of the most common injuries incurred during childbirth include:
- Abrasions, cuts, and bruises which can sometimes be deep enough to require stitches.
- Oxygen deprivation leading to brain injury developmental delay or cerebral palsy in the baby.
- Erb’s or Klumpke’s palsy due to the application of excessive force in trying to dislodge the baby from the mother’s pelvis, resulting in an injury to the baby’s nerves in the shoulder region.
- Early C-section leading to the birth of a premature baby who is not fully developed and has immature lungs, heart, and other vital organs.
- Hemorrhaging in the mother from severed arteries, sometimes requiring an unplanned hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and potentially maternal death.
- Infections from improperly sterilized surgical tools.
- Leaving swabs and surgical instruments in the mother’s abdominal cavity.
- Failure to use blood thinning medication leading to the formation of blood clots in the mother following Cesarean surgery causing deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism.
- Injuries to the mother’s bowel or urinary bladder which are in close proximity to the uterus.
- Injuries from improperly administered anesthesia including brain damage.
- Wrongful death of the mother or baby in cases of negligence.
Other C-section complications can include:
- Perforation of the bowels or intestines during incision;
- Adhesion development on the uterus;
- Improperly replaced organs resulting in blockage;
- Extended recovery time; and
- Increased risks in future pregnancies.
Legal Remedies for Injuries Sustained During Childbirth
If either you or your baby was injured after an unplanned Cesarean section, you can seek legal help. If you suffered complications as a result of an untimely C-section or from poor decision-making during childbirth, a medical malpractice attorney can help you claim compensation for your losses.
Under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), a hospital cannot refuse to provide you with copies of your medical records and other documentation related to your delivery. By looking at your records, a medical malpractice attorney can advise you whether there’s enough evidence to support your claim, and if so, who is liable, the physician and/or the hospital.
Once you go ahead and file a lawsuit, it is not uncommon to obtain additional records. The doctors, nurses and hospital administrators will then have to provide depositions under oath in your attorney’s office in the pre-trial period. You may be advised to concurrently file a complaint with the state medical board. Experts in the field of childbirth may need to be hired to carefully scrutinize the series of events leading up to the injury. The doctor and hospital will either settle out of court or your lawsuit will go to trial.