Although most labor and deliveries result in a healthy baby, birth injuries can occur with or without medical malpractice. Of course, birth injuries are more likely to occur when doctors fail to follow the standard of care of their profession. The standard of care is what a reasonable physician would do under the same or similar circumstances. Although most medical malpractice lawsuits are filed against private doctors and/or hospitals, some involve public institutions. Last month, a Michigan family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the US government alleging doctors at an Army medical center in Texas failed to properly respond to signs of fetal distress and improperly administered the drug Pitocin.
According to the medical malpractice lawsuit, doctors at Darnall Army Medical Center improperly administered the drug Pitocin to stimulate labor. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 1 in 5 deliveries in the US are induced. In 1990, the figure was 1 out of 10. Artificially inducing deliveries with Pitocin has come under increasing scrutiny by many who feel the drug is being overused to speed up deliveries in hospitals, often when there is no medically indicated reason. Pitocin has been shown to increase the risk of fetal distress. In the case against Darnall Army Medical Center, the lawsuit alleges the baby's heart rate dropped several times after Pitocin was improperly given.
In addition to misusing Pitocin, the lawsuit alleges doctors at Darnall failed recognize signs of fetal distress. Signs of fetal distress may include a non-reassuring drop in fetal heart rate, meconium (the babies first stool) found in the amniotic fluid, or reduced fetal movement felt by the mother. In the Darnall case, the family's medical malpractice lawyer alleges the hospital failed to order an immediate emergent cesarean section after their baby heart rate dropped indicating the baby was in distress. As a result of the delay in delivery, the child allegedly sustained profound brain damage.
As with most birth injury cases involving brain damage, the defense will deny they deviated from the accepted standard of care. They will likely argue the decision to delay delivery was a judgment call, meaning other reasonable doctors in a similar position may have done the same thing. In addition, the defense will likely claim the baby's brain damage, if proven, was caused before labor and delivery began. With this causation argument, the defense contends even if one believes the baby should have been delivered sooner, it would not have made a difference because the damage had already been done. These and other questions are routinely litigated in complex medical malpractice cases involving brain damage.
Safeguardfreedom.com, Birth Injury Lawsuit Filed Against United States Government As The Result Of Pitocin Use, June 29, 2012.
Babycenter.com, Inducing Labor, Viewed July 17, 2012.