Richmond Attorneys Handling Malpractice Cases Involving the Wrongful Death of an Unborn Baby
Tirelessly pursuing justice when parents lose a baby to medical negligence
Prior to 2012, Virginia law did not allow parents to pursue a wrongful death claim involving the death of their child who died in the womb as a result of negligence. The in utero death of the baby, or “fetal demise,” was treated as a bodily injury to the mother, but the parents could not recover for the grief of losing their baby. That changed with Virginia legislation passed in 2012. Since that time parents have been able to pursue wrongful death claims for the death of their child whether the death occurs before or after delivery.
This page describes our experience handling these tragic cases when the loss of the baby occurs as a result of medical malpractice.
Medical conditions that can cause injuries or the death of an unborn child
Common examples of complications which, if not treated appropriately, can cause irreversible injury or death to the child include:
Bleeding during pregnancy: placenta previa, placental abruption, and uterine rupture
During pregnancy, the placenta typically attaches to the top or side of the uterus. Some mothers develop a condition called “placenta previa,” where the placenta covers or blocks the cervix, causing vaginal bleeding. This condition requires bed rest, and close monitoring of the mother to help prevent premature delivery and placental abruption. Placental abruption is a true emergency that causes catastrophic bleeding and oxygen deprivation to the infant.
Uterine rupture is another emergent condition. This is a tear in the wall of the uterus that puts both mother and baby’s lives in danger. There is an increased risk of uterine rupture for mothers who go into labor after having a prior caesarean section – the contractions of labor cause separation of the scar from the prior incision. Uterine rupture can result from allowing high risk mothers to labor or the failure to timely deliver a macrosomic (i.e., large) baby. If a rupture goes undetected or untreated, both mother and baby can suffer life-threatening injury.
Decreased blood flow to the fetus: umbilical cord injury and preeclampsia
Proper blood flow is necessary to carry oxygen and other crucial nutrients to a fetus’ developing brain and organs. If that blood flow is reduced or cut off, organs start to shut down, leading to severe injury or death. This can be caused by umbilical cord injuries, such as prolapse.
It can also be caused by undiagnosed and/or untreated maternal medical conditions. Preeclampsia is a common condition in mothers that can cause reduced blood flow to the placenta. If doctors do not diagnose and treat conditions like preeclampsia correctly, the mother and baby can suffer serious injuries.
Oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia, occurs when the brain does not get enough oxygen. Hypoxia causes brain damage and can be fatal to a baby in the womb. Obstetricians and medical staff must be aware of the symptoms and warning signs that a baby is experiencing a lack of oxygen, and act immediately. Hypoxia is often caused by the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, problems with the placenta, or a long and stressful labor and delivery.
Trauma during delivery
Complicated deliveries can lead to fatal birth injuries. When a doctor, nurse or midwife is not properly prepared to deal with a baby in distress, they can make negligent mistakes. Common errors include improper use of a vacuum extractor or forceps and improper or unnecessary caesarean sections. These can lead to life-threatening injuries to the newborn.
Other causes of fatal birth injuries include:
- Attempting a natural delivery when C-section is required
- Dropping the infant
- Excessively pulling at the baby’s head or limbs
- Failure to clear the baby’s airway properly
- Failure to detect fetal distress
- Failure to properly identify serious health conditions
- Improper fetal oxygen monitoring
Even one of the situations or conditions above can greatly increase the risk of injury and death to a newborn. Medical miscommunication and negligence can lead to more than one mistake, resulting in unnecessary loss and tragedy. At Phelan Petty, our Richmond lawyers investigate every detail of what happened and hold all parties accountable for your loss.
Liability for the death of a fetus or newborn in Virginia
Dealing with the loss of a child is overwhelming for a family, even more so when you discover your child died from a preventable condition or injury. At Phelan Petty, our job is to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure you understand your legal rights.
An unborn baby can experience life-threatening and fatal injuries when doctors, nurses and obstetricians fail to:
- Address symptoms of complications and fetal distress
- Address your concerns and complaints
- Communicate properly with medical staff
- Intervene to avoid dangerous and prolonged labor
- Monitor both mother and baby for signs of distress
- Monitor fetal heartbeat
- Properly and safely use forceps, vacuum extractors and other delivery tools
Compensation for fatal birth injuries
Fatal birth injury claims can be complex and medically detailed. When seeking compensation, our Richmond medical malpractice attorneys factor in a variety of factors when considering expenses, but every circumstance is different. However, when we take your case, we fight for compensation that includes:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses related to your baby
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship and enjoyment of life
- Physical pain your baby endured