Maternal Deaths Due To Medical Malpractice

Over the years, I have represented a number of families who have suffered catastrophic consequences of childbirth. A recent news report discusses two cases that very similar to cases that I have successful handled.

In the recent matters, a Massachusetts hospital launched an internal review following the tragic deaths of two young mothers during childbirth. One mother died in mid-January, leaving four children, including her newborn baby girl, after suffering an amniotic fluid embolism. The other mother died just one month earlier after giving birth to her first child, a healthy baby boy, due to complications from a Caesarean section. The Massachusetts Department of Health also is investigating these deaths as part of a standard protocol. A copy of the article regarding the investigation can be found here.

Amniotic fluid embolism is a terrible complication of pregnancy and childbirth. When an amniotic fluid embolism occurs, fluid from the mother’s amniotic sac enters the mother’s circulatory system carrying fetal debris which can migrate throughout the mother’s organs, sending the mother into serious bodily shock. When this occurs, the results can be extreme for both the mother and the unborn baby. Several risk factors may help to predict amniotic fluid embolisms before they occur, including sudden and traumatic labor, advanced maternal age, placental abruption, and delivery using forceps or vacuum extraction. The failure to anticipate and protect a patient who may have one or more of these risk factors may constitute medical malpractice.

Similarly, delivery via Caesarean section carries risks as well. Sometimes, a Caesarean section may be necessary to preserve the health and safety of both the mother and the baby. In this situation, a physician may be liable for medical malpractice for failing to timely perform a Caesarean section.
The Massachusetts hospital has taken the position that the women’s deaths were both unpredictable and unpreventable and also unrelated, stating that the medical team responded to both cases swiftly and aggressively and did everything possible. The hospital’s internal review is being conducted in the form of a peer review committee comprised of a group of physicians. This committee reviews the patient’s care to determine whether or not it was appropriate under the circumstances.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 650 women die each year as a result of delivery or complications from delivery. Despite rapid advances in medicine, the pregnancy-related mortality rate has more than doubled in the last 30 years.

Maternal deaths related to childbirth are rare. Even with today’s medical knowledge and techniques, however, mistakes happen. When a doctor, nurse or a hospital act negligently or carelessly, serious birth injuries can occur and sometimes even result in death of the mother, the child or both. When these mistakes occur, the negligent healthcare providers must be held accountable for their actions so other families are not forced into a similar and tragic situation. Although the results of the investigations in Massachusetts are unknown at this time, two young fathers are grieving over the sudden loss of their wives and learning to cope with the reality of raising two children alone. Medical negligence or not, no family should have to endure this type of tragedy.

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