Birth injury 101: When does a bad delivery rise to medical malpractice?

When does a naturally difficult birth tip over into the realm of medical malpractice resulting in birth injuries?

It is not uncommon for those who are having a baby to experience some difficulty during the labor process. Although some difficulties are expected, some mothers may wonder when these complications go beyond natural birthing issues and rise to the level of medical malpractice. This question is not always an easy one to answer.

There are some cases that seem fairly obvious. One recent example involves an obstetrician out of Florida who was alleged of causing permanent brain damage to an infant due to his negligent care during the birthing process. The physician was accused of leaving his patient's side during the birthing process to take a personal phone call from his stockbroker. Additional issues were present in this case, including allegations that the physician ordered an increase in the use of a drug that increases contractions during the birthing process and the contention that there was a failure to move forward with a Cesarean section when the infant was in severe distress. A nurse that was part of the unit aiding in this delivery also stated that the physician "fabricated a note" that the "woman had refused a C-section." Due to these errors, the mother contends that the infant suffered from oxygen deprivation that caused serious injuries, including brain damage, to the infant.

These facts, if supported, appear to support a clear medical malpractice claim. However, the allegations alone are not enough to move forward with a lawsuit to hold the physician accountable for his negligent actions. In order to hold the obstetrician accountable with a med mal case, the injured party must meet certain criteria. In most cases, these legal issues fall under the broad purview of negligence. This area of law generally requires the injured party establish the following:

  • Duty. First, if you believe that the physician was responsible for the injuries you must show that this medical professional had a legal duty to provide care. This criterion is generally met if a patient/doctor relationship is present.
  • Breach. This next factor is often more difficult to establish. It involves showing that the physician failed to provide the level of care that is expected, that he or she did not provide medical care that a reasonable competent individual would provide in the same situation.
  • Harm. Finally, the injured party must show that this failure led to the infant's injuries.

Building this type of case generally requires expert testimony. This is particularly true for the second element. These cases often need the testimony of another medical professional that provides similar services to verify that there was a failure to meet the accepted standard of medical care.

Are these cases successful?

When properly structured, these cases can lead to successful outcomes for the injured infant. In the case noted above the family received a monetary award of $33.8 million.

If you believe that your child was the victim of medical malpractice during the delivery process, contact an attorney. Your lawyer will help build a case that meets the requirements for a successful med mal suit, better ensuring your infant receives the legal remedies your child is entitled.