A Mother’s Death During Childbirth Does Not Always Signal Medical Malpractice

Steven E. North, Esq.

It happens rarely, fortunately, but it happens: A mother dies during childbirth from sudden, irreversible causes. Women have died from amniotic fluid embolism; abruptio placentae; preeclampsia, also known as hypotension of pregnancy; postpartum uterine hemorrhage; and sometimes even sudden acute causes that cannot be explained. Heart problems and underlying chronic medical conditions can fulminate at childbirth.

Such tragic deaths do not necessarily invite medical malpractice litigation. Determining whether or not medical malpractice contributed to or caused a maternal death requires careful examination of the medical records by experienced attorneys and physicians. They have to decide if there was a reasonable opportunity to anticipate or foresee the problem through vital signs, ultrasound, imaging studies or other means. They also want to validate that when the presenting circumstances arose, proper and immediate attention was rendered, because sometimes the dangerous circumstances can be reversed.

Equally tragic is when secondary to the mother’s circumstances, a child suffers catastrophic intrapartum injury rendering him or her totally and permanently incapacitated. Again, a careful and thorough evaluation of all of the relevant facts is required to see whether the circumstances justify initiating medical malpractice litigation.

Some medical conditions that can suddenly develop at the end stages of pregnancy or during childbirth can be successfully treated. The New York Times described a situation in which a 34-year-old woman died by hemorrhaging 12 hours after the birth of her son. A case was filed against the hospital on behalf of the family.

Such situations require careful and expert evaluation to assess.