A childbirth injury from ruptured placenta can have devastating effects on both the mother and unborn child. While childbirth injuries from ruptured placentas are relatively rare, any OB/GYN should be aware of the risk factors and should understand the proper course of treatment. A childbirth injury related to a ruptured placenta may give rise to a viable medical malpractice claim, but it's not always that easy to connect the legal dots. Read on to learn more.
A placenta is considered ruptured when it separates from the wall of the mother’s uterus prior to childbirth. A ruptured placenta is more commonly known as placental abruption. The placenta is the organ connecting the unborn child to the mother. It grows after pregnancy and attaches to the uterine wall, providing the fetus with oxygen and nutrients and serving as a waste disposal system. The placenta also provides protection against infection in utero.
When a placenta ruptures, the connection with the fetus is broken, depriving the fetus of essential nutrients and oxygen. This can cause the fetus -- and the mother -- to experience distress. As a general proposition, a ruptured placenta most frequently occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. However, a ruptured placenta can occur as early as 20 weeks.
While less than one percent of pregnant women suffer ruptured placentas, there are groups that are at a higher risk of this condition, including smokers, drug users and diabetics. So, too, do women over 40, women who have had several children in the past and women pregnant with multiple children. These risk factors should be noted and acknowledged by your OB/GYN early in the pregnancy, and the medical standard of care (a specific legal duty that serves as a yardstick for what is and what is not medical malpractice) likely demands that your OB/GYN continues to look for placental abruption throughout the pregnancy.
There are several warning signs indicating that a placenta has ruptured. In the mother, back pain and abdominal pain, tenderness in the area of the uterus, and vaginal bleeding may all indicate that a rupture has occurred. Abnormalities in the fetal heart rate are also indicators of a rupture. OB/GYNs, upon noting any risk factors or warning signs, are expected to follow certain courses of treatment. Tests such as ultrasounds, blood draws, fetal heart rate monitoring, and pelvic exams can be used to discover -- or rule out -- a ruptured placenta.
An OB/GYN’s failure to properly diagnose or treat a ruptured placenta may be considered medical malpractice, but making this kind of determination depends on the very specific circumstances of the patient's condition and course of treatment. Remember that just because something goes wrong during the provision of medical care, that doesn't mean that medical malpractice has occurred. It's much more complicated than that.
In general, medical providers have a duty to comply with the medical standard of care. This means that OB/GYN’s are charged with providing services at a level consistent with that of an ordinary, prudent professional with the same training and experience -- in good standing -- under the same or similar circumstances.
The standard of care is local, meaning that the standard of care in New York may be different from the standard of care in rural Texas. If an OB/GYN fails to comply with the standard of care, and that failure results in damages or injuries, then the basic requirements for a medical malpractice lawsuit have been met.
In the case of a ruptured placenta, the standard of care demands that risk factors be recognized, that appropriate tests and monitoring occur, and that in the event the placenta ruptures, a proper course of treatment is undertaken.
An untreated or misdiagnosed rupture can result in internal bleeding, premature birth, and potential brain damage to the fetus due to lack of oxygen. Severe ruptures can put both the mother and the fetus at risk of death.
Bed rest, hospitalization or even emergency cesarean section may be necessary to prevent injury (provided the fetus is properly developed).
To learn more about what it takes to establish all the necessary elements of this kind of case, check out our article, Medical Malpractice: What You Need to Prove.