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Stillbirths and Medical Malpractice: A Complex Issue

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In some cases, medical negligence can lead to or fail to prevent stillbirth.

The baby shower is over, and all the gifts, bows, ribbons, and wrapping paper long brushed aside, waiting for the new arrival, but the new arrival never comes. A stillborn child is a loss like no other, the hope of a new life crushed before it even begins. And if your medical team could have prevented the loss, you undoubtedly feel an additional layer of grief and anger. Patients place their trust and lives in their doctors’ hands to do the right thing, to practice medicine competently, so they do not suffer needlessly. When a family loses a baby to stillbirth, they may need financial help to cover hospital expenses, continuing medical care, including pharmaceuticals for pain relief and other complications for the mother, and more. While nothing can replace a baby lost to medical malpractice, the proceeds from a lawsuit might help pay for the resources a grieving family deserves and ensure that negligent medical professionals are held accountable for their mistakes.

When can Stillbirth be a Result of Medical Malpractice?

Medical malpractice occurs when doctors or their staff, hospital, or colleagues commit errors that medical professionals of equal caliber should not make under the circumstances they face. For example, an obstetrician who misses the signs of impending stillbirth, like the fetus that stopped moving at 24 weeks’ gestation or later, may be liable for negligence. Thus, they may commit malpractice when they ignore the mother’s concerns about the fetus’s movement. A more cautious response would be to search for a failed placenta, an intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) possibility, or other conditions threatening the fetus’s life.

Either condition and many others could lead to fetal distress and failure to thrive, which would typically prompt a doctor to induce labor or remove the fetus via C-section. A baby’s survival chances are greater outside of the womb at 24 weeks and beyond, so the question of stillbirth is not only detection and diagnosis, but also treatment. Once a medical doctor notices the fetus is in distress, they must consider an emergency cesarean section to attempt to save the life if at all possible. From 24 weeks to the day of delivery, a doctor should consider premature delivery at the first signs of fetal endangerment.

In addition, a doctor might avoid a stillbirth by making the proper diagnosis. A missed diagnosis or erroneous diagnosis of a severe illness or condition could lead to stillbirth. Perhaps the fetus with restricted growth may not have to die if the doctor in charge confirms the condition and takes the appropriate steps, whether it be inducing labor or performing a cesarean. Further, if a prenatal test that doctors typically order would have revealed a maternal or fetal illness, condition, or problem, a physician might be liable for a stillborn child if they did not order a standard test, follow up with test results, or take the appropriate measures to keep the pregnancy viable.

Testing, Monitoring, and Diagnosis to Prevent Stillbirth

A standard ultrasound could confirm IUGR, placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall), as well as regular measurements of the growing fetus at regular checkups. And other standard tests, like blood tests, vital signs measurements, and blood sugar evaluations, could detect other dangerous conditions, such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, maternal infection, and other conditions. Even physical observation of a mother’s prenatal bleeding, pain location, and medical charts noting previous preeclampsia or placental problems can help to avoid missed opportunities to save a fetus.

In addition, if a routine vaginal swab test reveals the mother’s Group B Streptococcus infection, her doctor can protect the baby by treating the infection with antibiotics. The medication can save the mother from serious illness or the fetus from potential illness, prematurity, or death. Likewise, failure to monitor the health of the mother and fetus and faulty decision-making during labor and delivery, especially errors like letting long labor go on too long, failing to respond to oxygen deprivation, or mishandling birth instruments that cause damage to the fetus, may amount to malpractice. Moreover, fetal monitoring during labor and delivery is still the best way to recognize fetal distress early enough to do something about it. As such, when fetal monitoring does not occur for an unexplained or unacceptable reason, the medical team may miss the optimal moment to save the fetus. This is particularly common in cases wherein umbilical cord problems threaten the fetus’s life immediately before delivery.

Factors that may Contribute to Stillbirths

Trained and experienced physicians should know that patients with a medical history that increases the risk of a stillbirth need additional monitoring during pregnancy and the birth itself. A competent medical professional who is paying attention and attuned to the unique aspects of their patient’s pregnancy, whether high risk or otherwise, should be acutely aware of warning signs like fetal distress and reduced fetal movement.

When it comes to stillbirth, there are multiple potential causes of the condition. Stillbirths may occur when a fetus has congenital abnormalities, the mother suffers from a condition that impacts the fetus, or the fetus suffers injury during childbirth. The mother’s medical conditions are a factor that may make stillbirth more likely to occur. For example, pregnant women with excessive bleeding before delivery, RH factor incompatibility with the fetus, blood disorders, preeclampsia, and infections may run a higher risk for still birth than those without these conditions. Other contributing factors include mother or child’s immunological disease, the fetus’s premature birth, or the mother’s health risks. Health risks such as obesity, smoking, being pregnant over 40 after undergoing In vitro fertilization, multiple births, and diabetes, raise concerns about stillbirth.

Regardless of the source, failing to heed symptoms or risk factors as warnings of potentially life-threatening conditions that lead to a stillborn baby is inexcusable medical neglect. Likewise, reacting too late to save a fetus’s life by C-section or another medical intervention may constitute medical malpractice.

Can you Sue for Stillbirth in New Jersey?

Although it may be little consolation, you do have options for seeking accountability from those whose negligence caused you and your family harm, in addition to monetary compensation to recuperate at least some of your losses. You can file a lawsuit against those who did not do their duty to you and your family. A medical malpractice action may allow you to recover your medical costs, lost income, and other damages. When holding negligent medical professionals accountable and requiring them to compensate you for your losses, your pain and suffering are also a consideration.

If your baby was stillborn due to medical malpractice, consult with a well-versed medical malpractice attorney for insight into the legal process of filing a lawsuit. Medical malpractice lawsuits differ from other lawsuits in critical ways, including the court’s special filing and procedural requirements. One difference is the expert testimony and affidavit attesting to the validity of your claim against the medical providers who caused your loss.

Was Your Baby Stillborn in NJ? Our Medical Malpractice Lawyers can Help Assess Your Options

Our experienced team of medical malpractice lawyers are highly educated regarding the unique rules, procedures, practices, and pitfalls of medical malpractice cases involving stillbirths, birth injuries, and pregnancy-related malpractice in New Jersey. Contact (866)-708-8617 to discuss your case with a seasoned attorney who can ensure that your malpractice claim is in good hands. We provide free initial consultations and case reviews, and encourage you to take the opportunity to have your questions answered.

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  • How do I know if my child has a pediatric malpractice case?

    If your child suffered an injury, complications, or a medical condition resulting from medical negligence, you may have grounds for a pediatric malpractice or birth injury lawsuit. Learn more.

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    If a doctor, nurse, hospital, or other healthcare provider failed to provide adequate care for your child and they suffered harm, you can pursue compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and more. Find out about damages.

  • How long do I have to file a pediatric malpractice claim?

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