Defining Obstetrical Malpractice

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Pregnancy and the birth of a child can bring a family immense happiness and joy. Because of the complexities and nature of obstetrics, however, complications and adverse outcomes can occur for both the mother and child. In some cases, a negative outcome may be the result of negligence on the part of a member of the obstetrical team, like a gynecologist, obstetrician, nurse, midwife, or ultrasound technician. If a member of the obstetrical team makes an error that results in an injury or death to the mother or child, obstetrical malpractice may have occurred. In Canada, professional insurance rates for obstetricians are among the highest, making obstetrics one of the highest-risk medical practices in the country. The aftermath of obstetrical malpractice can be devastating and life-altering and impact a family for the rest of their lives.

Obstetrical malpractice cases can be very difficult to identify. In some cases, an injury to a newborn child might not be recognizable or evident for years after their birth. It may only become apparent after the child begins to miss normal developmental milestones. This may leave parents wondering what happened and why their child faces physical or intellectual delays in development. Uncovering these injuries years after the initial trauma presents a myriad of complications. If you suspect your child was the victim of an obstetrical error, you need to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today. An obstetrical malpractice lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation and identify if the standard of care was breached and if that breach resulted in harm to you or your child. In this blog, we will define obstetrical malpractice, explore how these incidents happen, and examine the types of injuries that can occur when they do.

The Role of the OB/GYN

Obstetricians and gynecologists are central members of a medical team charged with the care of women during pregnancy and birth. The branch of medicine known as obstetrics and gynecology focuses on women’s health and reproduction over the course of a woman’s lifespan. They provide medical and surgical care, encompassing the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and management of conditions that affect a woman’s general and reproductive health. This includes the care of women who experience complex pregnancies, infertility issues, and other reproductive issues. Obstetricians and gynecologists provide treatment in a variety of healthcare environments, including hospitals, private practices, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

When Obstetrical Errors Can Occur

Obstetrical errors that harm the mother or child can occur at any point throughout the pregnancy, during labour and delivery, or even after the birth. No matter when the errors occur, the resulting injuries can be catastrophic and have long-lasting consequences. In this section, we will provide examples of obstetrical errors during each phase of pregnancy and birth.

Obstetrical Errors That Occur During Pregnancy

The period during pregnancy can also be referred to as the pre-natal, antenatal, or antepartum stage. This stage is critical for the health and development of the child, and errors that occur during this stage can be difficult to detect. Examples of errors that could occur during this stage include:

  • Failure to detect pregnancy, which can result in the patient being prescribed and taking medications that can cause birth defects or brain damage to the fetus.
  • Failure to diagnose and treat gestational diabetes mellitus in the mother, which can cause macrosomia (a fetus that is large for its gestational age) or hypoglycemia in the fetus.
  • Failure to detect abnormal fetal development or congenital birth defects, including intrauterine fetal growth restriction (IUGR), a fetus that is too small or too large for its gestational age, cephalopelvic disproportion, spina bifida, omphalocele, cleft palate, or clubfoot.
  • Failure to perform appropriate genetic testing to identify disorders and conditions like sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, aneuploidy, or monosomy.
  • Failure to test for and provide timely treatment for bacterial infections that can present during pregnancy, like cytomegalovirus, listeria, or syphilis.
  • Failure to order, perform, or analyze diagnostic tests, including ultrasounds, sonograms, or bloodwork.
  • Failure to identify placental conditions like placental abruption, uteroplacental vascular insufficiency, placenta accreta, or placenta previa.
  • Failure to timely detect abnormalities in the amount of amniotic fluid present, be it too little or much.

In addition to these errors, malpractice can also occur before pregnancy in instances termed wrongful pregnancy. These cases typically involve an unsuccessful sterilization procedure where an act of negligence resulted in an unexpected conception.

Obstetrical Errors During Labour & Delivery

Labour and delivery can present a multitude of challenges, both for the mother and the fetus. Errors made during this period can have catastrophic, lifelong ramifications. Examples of errors that could occur during this stage include:

  • Failure to perform a timely delivery or caesarean section (c-section) as the result of unnecessary delays.
  • Failure to identify and properly address a breech delivery, including improperly performing maneuvers to the fetus.
  • Failure to monitor and address abnormalities with the fetal or maternal heart rates.
  • Failure to respond in a timely manner to signs of fetal distress.
  • Failure to identify umbilical cord issues like a cord compression or tangle, nuchal cord (loop of umbilical cord around the fetal neck), or umbilical cord prolapse.
  • Failure to identify and address prolonged periods of oxygen deprivation for the fetus resulting in asphyxia.
  • Failure to identify and address a uterine or placental rupture.
  • Failure to properly employ forceps or vacuum extractors.
  • Failure to properly administer medications like prostin, prostaglandin, oxytocin, or syntocin.

Additionally, maternal trauma can occur during labour and delivery, especially when forceps or vacuum deliveries are performed. These injuries can include pelvic trauma, vaginal lacerations, trauma to the anal sphincter, cervical tears, injury to the urethra or bladder, or perineal tears. These injuries can be serious and cause long-term physical and emotional pain.

Obstetrical Errors That Occur After Birth

After the birth of the child, malpractice can still occur that can lead to serious harm to the newborn. Examples of errors that could occur during this stage include:

  • Failure to identify and provide timely treatment for infections like meningitis and encephalitis
  • Failure to monitor the newborn’s glucose levels and identify issues like hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia
  • Failure to diagnose and provide timely treatment for jaundice (hyperbilirubinemia)
  • Failure to diagnose and treat conditions like encephalopathy, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPNH), or seizures.

The Long-Term Effects of Obstetrical Malpractice

Obstetrical errors can have serious consequences and even lead to the death of a child. Errors made during any phase of pregnancy or childbirth may cause serious conditions like:

  • Brain damage and cognitive impairment
  • Developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, and intellectual delays
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Neonatal encephalopathy (NE) or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
  • Scoliosis
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Epilepsy
  • Seizures
  • Erb’s palsy
  • Hearing impairment, hearing loss, or auditory neuropathy
  • Cardio-pulmonary disorders
  • Loss of sight, neurological visual impairment (NVI), cortical visual impairment (CVI), cortical blindness, or other ophthalmological disorders

Establishing Obstetrical Malpractice Occurred

Not every error made by an OB/GYN or their team constitutes obstetrical malpractice. A medical malpractice case must involve negligence, and that negligence must have caused injury to the victim. The best way to determine whether or not you have a viable obstetrical malpractice claim is to contact a medical malpractice lawyer. Your lawyer can conduct an investigation and identify the applicable medical and legal issues involved.

At Klein Lawyers, we will start by conducting an in-depth investigation of the evidence in your case. We will take the time to really listen to your story, obtain and review any needed records, and thoroughly evaluate your potential claim. We strive to make this process as easy for you as possible, shouldering as much weight as we can. Our aim is that you focus on your life while we focus on your case.

During the case, we will retain key medical experts to establish the critical details of the injury that occurred. Experts play a vital role in medical malpractice cases as they serve to establish the standard of care and delineate between instances of error and fault. We will utilize experts from key specialties like neonatology, obstetrics, gynecology, genetics, and pediatrics.

Have You or a Loved One Been Harmed by Obstetrical Medical Malpractice?

If you suspect that you or a loved one was the victim of an obstetrical error, you need to seek competent legal advice as soon as possible. Klein Lawyers handles obstetrical medical malpractice cases, has a stellar reputation, and has an outstanding track record. We have the resources, knowledge, and experience Canadians need to get the justice and compensation they deserve.

We keep you informed throughout the entire case, so you never feel like you are in the dark. We want you to understand what is going on and feel comfortable asking any questions along the way. Too often, we hear concerns expressed by potential clients about what the process will be like, what they will need to do, how often they will hear from their lawyers, and what will be expected of them. We will make it clear right from the start. You will know what to expect, and we will stay true to our commitment to you. Communication and transparency are important to our team, and you will recognize that as our client.

Klein Lawyers Can Help

Klein Lawyers has over 30 years of success and experience in the legal field. During that time, we have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of Canadians who need legal representation. Working with an experienced lawyer is critical, and our team understands the trust clients place in us when representing them. We value that trust and feel honoured that so many clients choose our law firm to fight for them. We are passionate about obtaining the best possible outcome for our clients. While we know it is never easy, we will not stop standing up to medical professionals who harm individuals through their negligence.

Contact Us Today

Contact the Klein Lawyers team today at (604) 874-7171 for a free consultation of your claim with a Vancouver medical malpractice lawyer. We serve clients throughout British Columbia and Canada. There is no obligation, and your consultation is completely confidential. We are here to help victims of medical malpractice receive the justice they deserve.