Liability for Obstetric Malpractice

A look at OB/GYN liability for medical errors related to pregnancy and other health conditions - and when a malpractice lawsuit may be warranted.

Whether involving a misdiagnosis, a botched surgery or procedure, or the failure to recognize a complication, OB/GYN malpractice can have far-reaching consequences for both mothers and, in the case of birth-related medical malpractice, children. Read on to learn more about the varying types of OB/GYN medical malpractice.


A misdiagnosis, in any area of health care, is a wrong or missed diagnosis. In the case of OB/GYN malpractice, misdiagnoses often involve the failure to recognize markers indicating genetic defects in a fetus. Misdiagnoses could also involve improper handling of ectopic or tubal pregnancies.

OB/GYN's have innumerable tools that allow them to identify even the potential for genetic defects in a fetus. Ranging from targeted questioning to specific tests -- both invasive and non-invasive -- to determine whether a fetus is developing normally, there is very little preventing an OB/GYN from discovering conditions such as mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome or other less specific genetic defects.

Certainly, in many instances, prospective parents may choose to decline these tests as a matter of personal preference. But in the case of high-risk pregnancies, or when tests are not specifically declined, the failure to meet the medical standard of care with regard to testing and identifying genetic defects is considered malpractice.

Less controversial, but no less damaging, are misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancies. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fetus implants somewhere outside the uterus. The most common type of ectopic pregnancy is a tubal pregnancy, in which the fetus implants within one of the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable pregnancies, but misdiagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy can lead to serious complications.

OB/GYN malpractice is certainly not limited to patients who are pregnant, particularly when it comes to misdiagnoses. OB/GYNs are often the first line of defense against breast, uterine and ovarian cancer. Misdiagnosis of cancer can result in malpractice if the standard of care dictates that the cancer should have been discovered through normal, routine testing.

Surgical Errors Related to Pregnancy

OB/GYNs may commit medical malpractice in the course of performing surgical procedures or delivering children. There are a number of minor procedures that OB/GYNs perform. Tubal ligations and caesarean sections are two of the most common. A tubal ligation is a procedure in which a woman’s fallopian tubes are altered to prevent future pregnancy. A Caesarean section (“c-section”) is a procedure in which a child is surgically removed from a mother’s womb, as opposed to a natural childbirth.

Tubal ligation is generally considered a minor procedure, but complications are not unheard of. Proving that a tubal ligation was negligently performed can be difficult, and often requires that another procedure be performed by a third-party physician to determine if malpractice was committed. This is incredibly invasive, and many patients do not find the risk worth the potential reward.

More common, however, is a malpractice suit based on a failed tubal ligation. When a tubal ligation fails, a woman becomes pregnant. Certainly, there are any number of reasons this could happen that may not be related to malpractice, but an improper tubal ligation resulting in an unwanted pregnancy may serve as grounds for a lawsuit.

Caesarean sections are also rife with potential complications. Injury to mother or child or both may result even if no malpractice is evident. However, negligent Caesarean sections often result in very dire consequences. Whether it be internal injuries -- including infertility -- inflicted upon the mother or injuries negligently inflicted upon a child being born, an OB/GYN that is negligent when performing a C-section can be held liable for medical malpractice.

Birth Defects

OB/GYNs are charged with monitoring the condition of both mother and unborn child during labor. If an OB/GYN fails to note and handle fluctuations in oxygen levels, heart rate or other bio-indicators, severe brain damage or death could result. A child that is born with birth defects due to an OB/GYNs negligence could require specialized care for its entire life.

Non-Pregnancy Surgical Errors

OB/GYNs perform hundreds of surgical procedures unrelated to pregnancy. Hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus), myomectomy (cyst removal) and bladder support surgeries are three of the most common procedures an OB/GYN may perform.

Hysterectomies are often used to combat uterine cancer. If caught in the early stages, a hysterectomy can allow a woman to fully recover from a cancer diagnosis. The OB/GYN performing the procedure is, as ever, bound by the standard of care. Any deviation from the standard of care that causes injury to the patient may be deemed medical negligence. The same goes for myomectomies and bladder suspensions. Damage to a woman’s reproductive system or other internal organs during one of these procedures can result in liability that could be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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