According to the New England Journal of Medicine, today over 30 percent of all deliveries are by Cesarean section, commonly known as “C-section.” It’s a surgical procedure where incisions are made through the mother’s abdomen and uterus to aid in delivering her baby. They are normally performed when the safety of the mother or baby is at risk.
While C-sections are routine procedures, occasionally problems do occur. Most doctors are well-equipped to deal with cesarean section complications, but there are instances when the mother or child are unnecessarily harmed.
In this section, we cover issues regarding physician negligence during C-section surgery, and what you need to know about filing a medical malpractice claim.
Planned and Unplanned C-sections
Cesarean sections can be planned or unplanned. Pre-delivery, the doctor may decide performing a C-section is advisable for the safety of the mother or baby. During a normal delivery, complications may arise that require the doctor to perform an unplanned C-section.
Common reasons for unplanned C-sections:
- Labor becomes inordinately delayed
- The baby or mother show signs of distress
- The umbilical cord wraps around the baby’s neck
- The baby is too large for a normal delivery
Common reasons for planned C-sections:
- The mother has an infection which could be transferred to the baby
- The baby remains in a head down position close to the delivery date
- The mother is in a weakened condition prior to delivery
- The mother is carrying more than one baby
- The mother had a previous C-section, and a normal delivery might tear her previous incision (referred to as a “uterine rupture”)
C-section Complications and Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice lawsuits account for millions of dollars in settlements and jury awards each year. Physician malpractice is generally defined as “an act or omission by a doctor which deviates downward from the established standard of care in the medical community, and as a result of that deviation, the patient is unnecessarily harmed.”
If you or your baby were injured due to doctor negligence, you may be able to file a claim against the doctor(s) and possibly the hospital where the C-section was performed. To win your case, you must meet four legal requirements, known as your burden of proof. To meet this burden, you must prove:
- The doctor owed you a duty to perform your C-section according to the medical standard of care set by other doctors in the community.
- The doctor deviated downward from that standard of care.
- As a result of the deviation, you or your baby were injured.
- The deviation (negligence) was the direct and proximate cause of the injuries.
Injuries to the Baby
During delivery, the mother or baby may be in distress due to cesarean section complications. When this occurs, the doctor must be ready to act. If a doctor doesn’t follow proper medical protocol, the baby may sustain a serious child birth injury.
Common child birth injuries include:
Lacerations, abrasions and scarring
The doctor may make an incision too deep, resulting in lacerations, abrasions and bruising to the baby. In some cases, a laceration can be deep enough to require stitches, resulting in permanent scarring.
When a C-section is delayed, the child may be deprived of oxygen. As a result of oxygen deprivation, the child may suffer developmental injuries or cerebral palsy.
Erb’s Palsy occurs when the doctor has trouble dislodging the baby and uses too much force to pull the baby out, resulting in injury to the baby’s “brachial plexus” nerve group in the shoulder area. Usually, a doctor’s failure to perform a C-section causes this injury.
When a doctor performs a C-section too early in the pregnancy, the baby’s lungs, heart or other organs may not have developed enough, as in healthy deliveries.
In extreme cases, the combined effects of the doctor’s errors may result in the baby’s wrongful death.
Injuries to the mother include:
Excessive blood loss (Hemorrhaging)
During the C-section, if the doctor cuts the uterus, a great deal of blood can quickly be lost, and the doctor may have to use medication to stop the bleeding. In severe cases, the doctor may sever an artery. When that occurs an unplanned hysterectomy may need to be done.
Improperly sterilized surgical tools, swabs inadvertently left inside the mother, and failure to administer antibiotics can all cause infection, which can lead to fever, and in extreme cases, death.
Blood clots can form during, and immediately after delivery, and are more likely to happen during C-sections. The doctor’s failure to use blood thinning medications, and have the mother get up and walk as soon as possible, can lead to a blood clot that can travel to the lungs or brain.
Bladder and Bowel Injuries
The bladder and bowel are the organs closest to the uterus. They are susceptible to lacerations and damage from catheters inserted or removed incorrectly.
An anesthesiologist is also present during a C-section to administer general or spinal anesthesia, and to monitor the levels in the mother’s body. Too little anesthesia can result in the mother suffering extreme pain, too much can result in dangerously low blood pressure.
Legal Remedies for C-section Injuries
If you or your baby were injured in a cesarean section complication, you should consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible. Get copies of all your medical records, and any other documentation related to your delivery. Under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), you have a right to all those documents.
After speaking with you, and reviewing your medical records, your attorney will know if there’s enough evidence to file a medical malpractice suit.
Additionally, your attorney will advise if you should also file suit against the hospital. In most cases, hospitals are responsible for the negligent acts of their doctors. Your attorney must be able to prove the hospital knew, or should have known, that the doctor had a history of negligence, and still permitted the doctor to practice.
After filing the lawsuit, the attorney will engage in lots of pretrial discovery, beginning by issuing subpoenas to the doctor and hospital for all your medical records. There’s always a chance the doctor or hospital withheld additional records, which may potentially be damaging. But once those records are subpoenaed, the doctor and hospital have no choice but to turn over everything.
Next, your attorney will get depositions from the doctor who performed the C-section and one or more hospital administrators. A deposition is like a pretrial “run through” that takes place in your attorney’s office. There, the doctor and administrator(s) will be sworn in and must testify under oath. Any misrepresentations they make can subject them to contempt of court.
The best malpractice attorneys sometimes know more about the medical procedures used in C-sections than the doctors themselves. Your attorney will also hire one or more expert doctors who will closely scrutinize the negligent doctor’s actions.
Filing a Complaint with the State Medical Board
Your attorney may advise you to file a complaint against the negligent doctor with the state medical board. This is done for two reasons. The first is to notify the board that your doctor may pose a risk to other women and their babies. The second is to lend support to your medical malpractice lawsuit.
Filing a complaint with the state board will start an investigation of the doctor. If the board decides the doctor’s actions breached the code of conduct, they may censure the doctor, or suspend or revoke his license to practice medicine. A documented action against the doctor by the state board can be crucial evidence supporting your lawsuit.
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