Medical negligence: C-section delay causing injury or death

Doctors must follow the reasonable and expected standard of care in determining the need for C-sections.

Cesarean births, usually called C-sections, that are not medically necessary are controversial. A C-section is a surgical birth in which the baby is removed through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. While we should be concerned about unnecessary C-sections, it is arguably more troubling when necessary C-sections are delayed or not performed, causing injury and even death to the mother or child.

For example, delay of a C-section when a baby is oxygen-deprived may cause cerebral palsy, brain damage, vision impairment and more. In May 2016, The Oregonian reported the $13 million settlement with the hospital of a Portland medical malpractice lawsuit that alleged that inadequate fetal monitoring, oxygen deprivation and failure to perform a C-section, among other things, had caused severe cerebral palsy in an infant.

Certain medical conditions in a pregnant mother or her unborn baby require that a C-section be planned and scheduled because normal labor and delivery would pose too much risk. Such situations may include:

  • Breech presentation or other abnormal positioning of the baby: the vaginal birth of a baby in breech position has the risk of umbilical cord prolapse that could block the flow of blood and oxygen to the baby; risk of the head lodging; risk of uterine rupture or other injury; and even the risk of death
  • Placenta previa: the placenta may block the cervix, putting the mother at risk for dangerous blood loss
  • Multiple birth: twins, triplets or higher multiple pregnancies often have medical complications that make vaginal birth dangerous
  • Maternal disease: HIV, herpes or other diseases or infections could pass to the infant in a normal delivery; maternal heart disease or other conditions could compromise her health in normal labor and delivery
  • Large infant: a larger baby, especially in a mother with a narrow pelvis, may get stuck

Even if a cesarean delivery is not planned, an emergency medical problem or unexpected complication may develop late in pregnancy or during labor or delivery that requires an emergency C-section to protect the mother and baby. Reasons may include:

  • Placenta abruptio, premature disconnection of the placenta from the uterine wall
  • Umbilical cord prolapse or compression, which can lead to dangerous fetal conditions
  • Fetal distress shown by abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Dystocia, meaning labor that does not progress, can raise the risk of infection, infant shoulder injury, maternal bleeding and other injuries
  • Inability of a baby’s head to pass through a pelvic area that is abnormally narrow
  • Potential rupture of scarring from a previous C-section
  • Breech birth that causes fetal distress or other danger
  • Unexpected need to deliver a fragile premature baby

It is crucial for the mother’s doctor to carefully monitor the mother and baby for distress and other symptoms in order to have the information needed to make an informed decision whether to perform an emergency C-section, especially as labor and delivery progress. When a doctor, midwife or other medical professional fails to property monitor or delays does not perform a necessary C-section, causing injury or death to mother or child, there may be liability for medical negligence or malpractice or for wrongful death.

Any patient, parent or family member experiencing birth injury in such a situation should seek immediate legal advice.

The personal injury lawyers of Pickett Dummigan McCall LLP in Portland, Oregon, represent parents and children in Washington and Oregon in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits stemming from birth injuries.