When Can You Sue Your Obstetrician For A Full-Term Stillbirth?

Posted on: 11 November 2015

Giving birth to a full-term child who never draws a breath can be one of the most devastating experiences of a lifetime. After the initial shock and grief fade, you may find yourself anxiously searching for answers about what happened to your child and whether this problem could repeat itself during future pregnancies. At some point, you may be able to pinpoint an action (or inaction) by your obstetrician as the primary factor behind your child's death. When can you sue your obstetrician after your otherwise healthy child is stillborn? Read on to learn about some situations in which a physician's negligence may have led to your child's death, as well as what you'll need to prove to recover a financial settlement from your doctor.

What are some situations in which negligence can lead to stillbirth?

The majority of stillbirth deaths -- about 66 percent -- are due to issues with the placenta that can block the flow of blood to your baby during late pregnancy or the childbirth process. In other cases, the umbilical cord may wrap itself around your baby's neck or become compressed in a way that prevents your child from getting enough oxygen. While these situations generally occur naturally and are outside your control, a doctor's failure to adequately diagnose or intervene when such problems are suspected could be considered negligent inaction that would subject the doctor to civil liability. 

In some cases, damage to the placenta can first be revealed during the 20-week ultrasound. While a healthy placenta provides a solid, dark background that helps reveal the lighter outline of your child, a placenta that is beginning to have trouble delivering oxygen may have white calcified spots that look like tiny stars. This decrease in the amount of oxygen often begins to stunt your child's growth in the womb, so a physician's failure to order more tests after a sharp drop in growth or the observation of calcified spots on the placenta could be deemed negligence.

In other cases, a physician's negligent action (rather than inaction) could have been the cause of your child's stillbirth. You may have been given a dangerously high dose of pain medication that caused your child to suffer respiratory failure, or the doctor may have fractured your child's skull or spine through the clumsy use of forceps. In these situations, both the cause of death (and liability) are more clear-cut.

What should you do if you feel your obstetrician or other physicians were negligent?

If you believe medical evidence will conclusively show that your doctor's negligent action (or inaction) caused you to lose an otherwise healthy child, you have a few options. The first is a civil malpractice lawsuit in which you'll argue before a judge or jury that your child would be alive if not for the negligence of your physician. You'll want to seek the advice of an experienced birth injury lawyer who can help evaluate your claim. If your odds of recovery are high, this attorney will likely take your case on a contingency fee basis, allowing you to be represented at no cost until (and unless) you win your lawsuit.

In other situations, liability may be murkier, and you could have trouble finding an attorney to take what may be an unwinnable case without a significant retainer. However, you may still be able to use your child's death as an impetus to force changes to certain hospital procedures or require obstetricians to undergo additional continuing education. You might also opt to file a complaint against your doctor with your state medical licensing board, which can conduct an independent investigation to determine whether this doctor deserves to keep his or her medical license.

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