OB/GYN Medical Malpractice Lawyers in New Jersey
Fighting for Mothers and Babies who Have been Injured by Obstetrical and Gynecological Negligence
When pregnant or getting your annual well-woman check, you probably visit your obstetrician-gynecologist, commonly called an OB/GYN. A doctor specializing in female reproductive health sees patients with various conditions affecting female organs, such as urinary tract infections, cervical cancer, infertility, and pregnancy. When obstetricians and gynecologists monitor the progress of pregnancy, they also track the health, growth, and development of the fetus from the first detection of the fetus to delivery. Therefore, Physicians practicing obstetrics monitor potentially two patients, making them responsible for two lives, as opposed to just one, and even more likely than other doctors to face malpractice claims.
Defining Negligence in Obstetrics and Gynecology
Medical Malpractice occurs when a physician or member of their staff is negligent and causes injury to a mother or baby, or both. However, pregnancy and birth are not always picture perfect, as many inherent dangers and obstacles exist in bringing a pregnancy to full term and delivering a healthy baby. Specific actions or omissions may constitute negligence because other OB/GYNs would not have done the same under the same circumstances. In other words, a gynecologist or obstetrician whose conduct does not meet the professional standards of their specialty may be liable for the damages they produce.
Examples of Obstetrician Negligence During Pregnancy
Obstetric negligence occurs during the pregnancy stage or the delivery and postpartum phase. One such pregnancy omission may be improper monitoring and treatment of a hypertensive patient. When a patient with a history of hypertension attends regular checkups with their OBGYN, the doctor must check blood pressure for hypertension, which could be dangerous to the mother and fetus. Hypertension may arise during pregnancy, as a reappearance, or for the first time, which must be monitored or medicated to control it. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to severe complications for the mother and baby, and even fetal death.
Pregnancy-induced hypertension is called preeclampsia. Regardless of the origin of hypertension, the condition is dangerous. At some point, a doctor must decide whether the pregnancy should continue to full term or be induced to protect the mother and baby. And when blood pressure rises dangerously, the patient may have to deliver by emergency C-section. A physician must time a c-section right or risk placing the fetus in danger of oxygen deprivation and resulting brain injury. Moreover, the mother could die.
Hypertension is not the only condition that an OB/GYN must diagnose and treat to protect the health and safety of a mother and fetus. A physician must know when they must refer a pregnant patient to a specialist in perinatology to deal with conditions preexisting to pregnancy, such as autoimmune disease, diabetes, and other conditions. They may need expert advice on medications that do not harm the mother or fetus. An OB/GYN could be negligent for failing to note the patient’s preexisting condition or refer the patient to a specialist to run tests to check on the fetus. High-risk pregnancies may result in premature delivery or severe health problems for the mother or newborn.
Another instance of pregnancy malpractice occurs when a physician fails to insert a cerclage or waits too long. A cerclage prevents premature labor. The physician inserts a stitch in the cervix to prevent dilation. Waiting too long to insert a cerclage when a woman has a history of cervical problems with early dilation is often considered negligence. The insertion is most successful in the early months of pregnancy, so when a physician waits too long, they may cause pregnancy loss.
Other prenatal errors include failing to screen for birth defects, such as Down syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, or Sickle Cell Anemia. OB-GYNs typically offer genetic screening to patients around the second trimester, and the failure to do so may lead to wrongful birth actions when a baby is born with a congenital disease the parents never learned of to decide on ending the pregnancy. Failing to diagnose other conditions, such as ectopic or tubal pregnancy, may also be found to be negligent when routine screenings detect the condition.
How OB/GYN Negligence can Occur During Labor and Delivery
When it comes to the fetus, a physician may commit medical malpractice by neglecting to monitor the fetus adequately during labor or failing to respond to a fetal monitor indicating fetal distress. An OB/GYN must make timely decisions to prevent oxygen loss by tracking the mother’s contractions, reducing or eliminating medication, or changing the mother’s position in labor. Failing to respond to fetal distress could result in a baby born with brain damage. A quick cesarean section may be necessary to save the fetus from hypoxia and devastating birth injuries like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
Other errors during labor and delivery include failure to detect umbilical cord problems, such as vasa previa, prolapsed cords, and short or long cords. Umbilical cord problems threaten the fetus’s source of nutrition and oxygen. In addition, mishandling birth assistance instruments may lead to fetal injury when a physician improperly uses forceps or vacuum extractors, causing skull or neck damage, bruises, cuts, or shoulder injuries.
Types of Complications Caused by Obstetric Malpractice
Pregnancy and delivery errors can lead to devastating injuries and death. Birth injuries include hypoxia, Erb’s Palsy, Newborn Respiratory Distress Syndrome, brain injury, and Cerebral Palsy, often due to oxygen deprivation and faulty use of birth instruments. Also, the mother may suffer epidural abscess, paralysis, uterine rupture, vaginal tears, sterility, and coma when the physician delays a cesarean section or administers Pitocin incorrectly to induce labor.
Other Cases of Malpractice by Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Pregnancy and delivery are not the only areas where malpractice occurs. OB/GYNs perform surgical procedures to diagnose and treat various conditions, most notably laparoscopic surgery and hysterectomy. During a laparoscopic procedure or hysterectomy, a doctor may accidentally perforate the bowel, which in and of itself may be a risk of the procedures. However, failing to appropriately treat the perforation, such as getting a surgeon to repair the perforation, may be negligence. And failing to detect the perforation in post-procedure follow-up care may be practicing below acceptable standards of medical practice, too. Performing unnecessary surgery is also a common malpractice claim against OB/GYNs.
Other instances of negligence in gynecology include failure to diagnose dangerous diseases like HPV or reproductive organ cancers. Routine screens for HPV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) prevent certain cancers. When the gynecologist fails to screen patients vulnerable to STIs regularly, they may be negligent. And failure to diagnose or treat ovarian, cervical, bladder, or uterine cancers may lead to hysterectomy, extensive treatment, or death. Some cancer symptoms appear like common illnesses, so doctors must be vigilant to screen for potential cancers when patients complain of stomach aches, bloating, or other symptoms that may point to cancer.
Further, negligent diagnosis or treatment of urinary tract infections or weak pelvic floors may cause patients to endure pain unnecessarily and can lead to infertility, sexual dysfunction, and difficulties urinating. A urogynecologist is a specialist who handles pelvic, uterine, and organ problems involving the urinary tract and neighboring organs. Additionally, endocrinology and infertility specialists may make mistakes by implanting too many embryos or implanting the wrong patient.
How Common is OB/GYN Malpractice?
Medical malpractice rates among OB-GYNs are one of the highest in the country, and not only doctors are negligent. Nurses, physicians’ assistants, lab technicians, surgeons, radiologists, and others contribute to patient injury by failing to live up to the standards of practice of similarly situated medical professionals in like circumstances. Even doctors in training contribute to malpractice in the field of obstetrics and gynecology.
Summer Ghaith and colleagues conducted a study reviewing the Westlaw database for OB-GYN medical malpractice cases involving trainees. The study found 46 malpractice cases with OB/GYN trainees, most involving residents, with a few fellows and medical students. Residents are typically less supervised than medical students, so the results make sense. Most of the cases involved obstetrics and fewer occurred in gynecology. Malpractice involves failure to obtain patient consent for trainees to participate in treatment, procedural problems, treatment, and diagnosis. Most of the cases involved procedural complications. Ultimately, it is up to hospitals and doctors to supervise their personnel so that negligence does not occur.
Injured by a Negligent OB/GYN in NJ, Do I Have a Claim?
Some instances of negligence are obvious, while others are not. To evaluate and eventually file a medical malpractice lawsuit, a medical malpractice attorney must review all of the medical records, circumstances, and details of the case, and consult an expert in obstetrics and gynecology to review an OB/GYN negligence claim and establish the merit of a case. The expert will need to validate the merit of the claim that an obstetrician, gynecologist, or staff member caused a patient harm by failing to provide the minimum level of competency and practice within the acceptable standard of care.
Recoverable Damages in Obstetric Negligence Cases in New Jersey
Upon proving negligence and causation, an injured patient may receive compensatory damages intended to make them whole, meaning as close as possible to how they were before the error occurred, financially, physically, and functionally. Economic and non-economic damages compensate an injured victim for past and ongoing medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering, in addition to other aspects of their life that may have been impacted, such as the need for ongoing physical therapy, a wheelchair due to permanent disability, and many others. Wrongful death or wrongful birth damages may also apply depending on the circumstances of the case. In especially egregious cases, a jury may award punitive damages to deter further grossly negligent conduct.
New Jersey Obstetrician Malpractice Attorneys can Help
Hospitals, obstetricians, and gynecologists can be held accountable for their negligence when innocent women and their children are injured due to their medical malpractice. If you suspect that a negligent OB/GYN has harmed you or your baby in New Jersey, contact our team of medical malpractice lawyers with vast knowledge, skill, and experience litigating complicated claims against obstetricians and gynecologists. We can comprehensively investigate your claim, consult with medical expert leaders in the field, build a solid claim, and handle all of the legal challenges that may arise when advocating for your just compensation. Please call 866-708-8617 for a free consultation or contact us online to reach an attorney who can review your OB/GYN malpractice case.