Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for Prenatal Care?August 1, 2020
Prenatal care begins the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant and continues until she gives birth. Proper prenatal care is essential to monitoring the health of the mother and the growing fetus through every stage of the pregnancy, as well as identifying any complications. In the United States, a staggering 95 percent of women experienced complications during their pregnancy, and the rate of life-threatening complications from pregnancy increased by 27 percent in the past decade. Although some prenatal complications are unavoidable, including genetic abnormalities, preeclampsia, and placenta previa, others are the result of negligence. If the health of the mother or fetus is jeopardized as a result of negligent prenatal care, the patient may file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the physician.
Physicians have a moral and legal obligation to exercise their knowledge and resources to benefit the health and well-being of the patient. Obstetricians are responsible for monitoring the mother and baby’s health and progress throughout the entire pregnancy. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is recommended that pregnant women see their obstetrician approximately once a month during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy, twice a month for weeks 28 through 36, and once a week for the remainder of the pregnancy. During these doctor visits, the physician will monitor the mother’s blood pressure and urine samples, track weight gain, ensure that the baby is growing properly, and conduct pelvic examinations when necessary.
What Complications Warrant Increased Monitoring?
If any of the routine tests or physical examinations suggest that there could be serious complications, or the health of the mother or the baby could be at risk, the obstetrician should recommend additional testing. If the physician fails to recommend these tests, the condition could progress and cause serious health problems. The following are signs that the baby could be in distress and warrant additional tests:
- Placental abruption
- The baby’s size is not what it should be
- The baby’s fetal heart rate is too fast or too slow
- The baby is post term
- There is decreased movement in the womb
- Previous cesarean section
- Abnormal levels or amniotic fluid
- Multiple gestation
Examples of Medical Mistakes that Lead to Prenatal Injuries
Unfortunately, there are times when a physician breaches the standard of care, which can cause serious health complications for the mother and the unborn baby. The following are examples of negligent medical errors:
- Failure to diagnose: If a physician fails to diagnose a contagious disease, or a potentially life-threatening medical condition, it can cause serious complications and threaten the health of the baby. For example, medical conditions, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and high blood pressure, require immediate treatment, or they can take a serious toll on the mother and the baby. If undiagnosed and left untreated, the condition can progress and become much more dangerous. If the mother has a contagious disease that the physician fails to diagnose, it could get passed to the baby.
- Failure to identify a birth defect: With today’s technology, physicians can identify birth defects while the baby is still developing. For example, if identified early enough, spina bifida, the improper formation of the spinal cord and spine, can be cured. However, if the physician does not diagnose the condition early enough, it may be more difficult, if not impossible, to fix. If untreated, spina bifida can cause mobility issues, incontinence, and muscle weakness.
- Failure to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy: An ectopic, or extrauterine, pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tube, or somewhere else in the belly other than inside the uterus. If a physician fails to diagnose and quickly treat this condition, it can cause life-threatening bleeding or, in severe cases, death. Ectopic pregnancies can be easily identified with a pelvic examination, blood tests, and ultrasounds.
- Failure to refer patient to specialist: A patient may be considered at high risk if she has preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or is over the age of 35, which is considered advanced maternal age. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may be necessary to refer the patient to a specialist who focuses on high-risk pregnancies. If the patient is not referred to a specialist and it is discovered that she could have benefitted from a physician with specialized training, the physician may be held liable for any health complications.
- Medication errors: These include incorrect dosage amounts, incorrect dosage instructions, and an incorrect medication. Each of these errors can cause serious complications for the mother and the baby. In extreme cases, the baby could suffer permanent brain damage as a result of a dosage or medication error.
- Birth injuries: Negligent prenatal care can often result in serious birth injuries. For example, failure to monitor fetal vital signs can cause preventable health complications or death. In addition, if forceps or vacuum extractors are used improperly during childbirth, it can cause permanent nerve and brain damage.
How can a Patient Pursue a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
To prove that a physician provided negligent prenatal care, the patient will need to prove that there was a breach in the duty of care, and the breach caused the injury or health complication. The following guidelines are specific to a health care professional’s prenatal duty of care:
- Conduct a physical examination and assess the patient’s medical history and lifestyle.
- Obtain the most current medical history documentation.
- Conduct regular pregnancy examinations, including ultrasounds and stress tests.
- Identify and treat any complications that may arise.
- Discuss all potential complications with the patient.
- Inform the patient about the importance of proper nutrition and other lifestyle options.
- Perform regular risk assessments to avoid prenatal complications.
In terms of liability, if the obstetrician is an employee of the hospital, the hospital will likely be held liable for any health complications caused by negligent care. However, if the physician is an independent contractor, the patient may file the medical malpractice lawsuit against the health care provider. There are several factors that make filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Maryland unique, compared to other states. For example, within 90 days of filing a lawsuit in Maryland’s courts, the patient must file a certificate of a qualified expert. This is a qualified medical expert who will swear under oath that, after reviewing the case, the health care provider failed to act within the accepted medical standard of care when treating the patient. Failing to file a certificate of a qualified expert will likely result in the case being dismissed.
What Else Should I Know About a Medical Malpractice Case?
Maryland also places limits on the amount of compensation that a patient can collect. Currently, the cap on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, is $875,000 for injuries and $2,187,500 for a wrongful death case. There is no cap for economic damages involving medical expenses, lost income, and long-term care.
According to Maryland’s statute of limitations, a patient must file a medical malpractice lawsuit within five years of the time that the injury was committed, or within three years of the date that the injury was discovered, whichever comes first. The patient also has the burden of proving that he or she could not have been aware of any underlying medical conditions that caused the injury or health complication. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer will walk the patient through every step of the claims process and ensure that the negligent party is held responsible for his or her actions.
Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Maximum Compensation for Victims of Negligent Prenatal Care
If you received negligent prenatal care, which jeopardized your health or the health of your baby, it is in your best interest to contact the experienced and dedicated Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton as soon as possible. Our skilled legal team will work closely with you to determine who is liable for the injuries you or your baby suffered. In addition, we will ensure that your legal rights are protected, and that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve. We will not stop fighting for you until justice has been served. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
Our offices are conveniently located in Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Parkville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.