C-Section Errors and Failure to Perform: Your Legal Options

When do complications from a C-Section birth rise to the level of medical negligence? When can the patient sue for damages?

As modern medicine's body of knowledge regarding the birthing process has expanded, so too has the list of potential complications. Cesarean sections (C-sections) are a significant -- but common -- surgical procedure utilized in instances where a natural childbirth may be too dangerous for mother and child. As with any major surgery, C-sections can be difficult, and mistakes are made (some preventable). When an OB/GYN errs during a C-section and causes injury, you may have a valid medical malpractice case - and the right to sue for your losses. Read on to learn more.

What is a Cesarean Section?

A Cesarean section, commonly referred to as a "C-section," is a surgical procedure whereby an unborn child is delivered through a surgical incision made through the mother's abdomen and uterine wall. A C-section is a major surgery, and should only be performed when medically necessary, as injury to the mother and/or child could result.

Potential Risks

Even in the best of circumstances, C-sections are not without risk. Like any major surgery, there is a risk of bleeding and internal organ damage, as well as infection.

These potential complications affect the unborn child as well as the mother. Lacerated bowels, nerve damage, blood clots or lung and heart complications can occur, resulting in a lifetime of medical issues -- or even death.

Malpractice Claims: Failure to Perform & Surgical Error

There are two main "categories" of C-section malpractice: failure to perform a C-section and performing a C-section improperly.

C-sections are the "indicated" procedure in several instances. Recognizing these instances is part of the medical standard of care required of OB/GYNs. Fetal distress is a major indicator of a C-section. Whether the fetus has an irregular heartbeat, fluctuating blood pressure or is entangled in the umbilical cord, a C-section provides a fast and relatively safe way to birth a baby without risking brain damage or worse.

Fetal Distress

If a doctor fails to notice signs of fetal distress, fails to perform a C-section (or fails to perform the procedure in a timely manner) it is very likely grounds for a medical malpractice claim if the baby is injured. OB/GYNs have a duty to monitor the health of the fetus prior to birth to determine if a natural childbirth is possible. If they breach their duty and violate the standard of care, and their breach causes damage to the child, they may be liable for medical negligence.

Pre-Natal Indicators

There are certain situations in which doctors, long before a child is ready to be born, should be planning to perform a C-section. If they fail to recognize these situations and proceed with natural childbirth -- or decide too late to perform a C-section -- they have likely violated the standard of care and committed medical malpractice.

Pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, placenta previa and placenta abruptio are all conditions that should result in a C-section. In each of these conditions, the placenta is either malfunctioning or in a position that would make natural childbirth extremely dangerous or even impossible. These conditions, however, are easily identifiable and even the most basic pre-natal care should serve to identify the potential risks of these conditions. If an OB/GYN has missed these complications and proceeds with natural childbirth, he or she has likely committed malpractice.

Any number of other issues -- twins, a prior C-section, breech or transverse presentation (meaning the fetus is not in the normal position) -- can make a C-section the appropriate method of delivery. So, too, can active herpes or other STDs. An OB/GYN is charged with recognizing these situations and acting accordingly.

Untimely C-Section

In situations of fetal distress, it is not enough to perform a C-section eventually. If a C-section is not performed in a timely manner, the consequences can be grave. Part and parcel with recognizing that a C-section should be performed is recognizing when a C-section should be performed. Embarking upon the procedure too late -- particularly after extended labor or periods of fetal distress -- can result in medical malpractice claims if the mother or child is injured.

Botched Cesarean Section Surgery

Even if an OB/GYN recognizes, in a timely manner, that a C-section is necessary, the doctor still has a duty to perform the procedure in a non-negligent manner. This does not always happen. Common errors include lacerated bowels or other internal organs, broken bones, oxygen deprivation or lacerations inflicted upon the child, and improper wound closure resulting in infection or sepsis. These conditions, in most situations, do not happen absent some type of error on the part of the OB/GYN performing the procedure.

See a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Cesarean sections make up nearly 20% of births in the United States, and that number continues to rise. The more often the procedure is performed, the more opportunity there is for errors to cause injuries to mothers and children. If you or your child were injured during a Cesarean section, contact a medical malpractice attorney in your area to discuss the situation and preserve any legal rights you may have.

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