Despite advances in medical technology, the misdiagnosis of pregnancy and conditions during pregnancy can still occur. If a doctor’s negligence causes the misdiagnosis and it leads to injury of the mother or the fetus, it can serve as grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
If the negligence leads to the death of the mother or the infant, it can serve as grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. If the fetus reaches delivery age with a significant birth defect, the parents might have chosen to have an abortion, if they had been alerted to the problem in time. The failure to detect the birth defect and inform the parents in a timely fashion can serve as the basis for a wrongful birth lawsuit.
If a doctor’s failure to correctly diagnose certain conditions in the mother or the fetus during pregnancy constitutes a breach of the duty of care that the doctor owes their patient and injury to either the mother, the fetus or both occurs, then a doctor can be liable for malpractice.
What Kinds of Pregnancy Misdiagnosis Can Occur?
Numerous characteristics of a pregnancy can be misdiagnosed as a result of a failure to test or failure to test accurately. Various significant problems can arise if tests for the following are not done or are done inaccurately:
- Test for the existence of a pregnancy;
- Test for the nature of the pregnancy, e.g. whether it is uterine, ectopic, or multiple;
- Calculation of gestational age of the embryo or fetus.
What Are the Risks of Misdiagnoses?
There are several risks of misdiagnosis, any of which could result in a medical malpractice lawsuit, including:
- Failure to Determine the Existence of Pregnancy: If the existence of a pregnancy is not determined, both the mother and the fetus can be placed at risk as a result of insufficient prenatal care, exposure to harmful substances, or use of medical treatments that should not be administered during pregnancy.
- One problem that can arise because a pregnancy itself is not diagnosed is preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is typically diagnosed during prenatal care that includes routine checks of blood pressure.
- Preeclampsia is indicated if two blood pressure readings higher than 140/90 are taken at least four hours apart. This result should indicate preeclampsia to a who should then r to monitor the mother’s health closely for possible preeclampsia. At this point, the doctor would then perform several additional tests, e.g. blood, urine, or ultrasound tests in order to get a more accurate assessment.
- If a physician fails to diagnose preeclampsia and treat it properly, it can result in major health problems for the mother and baby and the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice. A mother can die as a result of failure to diagnose preeclampsia, and the doctor could then be liable for wrongful death action. If the fetus dies, the parents can sue for wrongful death.
- Failure to Diagnose Ectopic Pregnancy: Occasionally, a pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus, e.g. in the fallopian tubes. The failure to detect an ectopic pregnancy can put the mother at serious risk.
- Failure to Diagnose Multiple Pregnancy: A multiple pregnancy is one in which there is more than one fetus. It can create complications for both the mother and the unborn fetuses. It needs to be diagnosed in a timely manner so the doctor can respond to the special circumstances that a multiple pregnancy presents;.
- Failure to Calculate Gestational Age: Thanks to advances in medical technology, labor can actually be induced if that becomes necessary. This may occur when delivery has still not happened after the standard 40 week gestational period. To determine whether to induce labor, doctors must first establish the likely date of conception and calculate the gestational age of the fetus. If this calculation is not done correctly, inducing labor can place the baby at risk;
- Failure to Detect and Treat Infections: The failure to detect and monitor or treat infections can have deadly consequences. A mother with an undiagnosed or untreated infection, such as an infection of the placenta can lead to the fetus being deprived of oxygen. This, in turn, can lead to cognitive disabilities in the infant. Death of the fetus or newborn baby is a possibility as well;
- Failure to thoroughly review the mother’s medical history: A doctor’s failure to closely review an expectant woman’s medical history might lead the doctor to miss the risk factors for such conditions as preeclampsia. Among the risk factors for preeclampsia are the age of the mother, i.e. under 20 or over 40, first pregnancy, multiple fetuses, history of chronic high blood pressure, migraines, diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions;
- Undiagnosed Anemia: Among the conditions that a doctor needs to detect is anemia.
Anemia is a condition that can be caused by insufficient iron, folate, vitamin B12, or other nutrients. It can lead to a reduction in the production of red blood cells, which in turn keeps proper oxygen and nutrients from reaching the fetus. Untreated anemia in a pregnant woman can cause preterm labor, low birth weight, and birth defects.
- Failure to detect Fetal Distress: Babies who experience fetal distress, such as having an usual heart rate or passing meconium during labor, are at greater risk of complications after birth. Lack of oxygen during birth can lead to very serious complications for the baby, including a brain injury, cerebral palsy and even stillbirth.
- Fetal distress often requires birth by cesarean section. While this can be a safe operation, it does present risks to both the mother and baby, including blood loss, infections and possible birth injuries.
- Failure to Detect a Breech Birth: A baby who is not positioned for head-first delivery usually must be delivered by cesarean section;
These are just some of the many different conditions that can arise during a pregnancy. They need to be properly diagnosed and treated to avoid unnecessary complications and potential injury to either the mother, the fetus or both. A doctor should know when to test for these conditions and then how to treat them when they are discovered. If the doctor fails to do this, the patient or parents of the baby may have grounds for a lawsuit alleging medical malpractice.
When Is a Doctor Liable?
In all of these cases of misdiagnosis, if an injury occurred as a result of the misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose, then the doctor can be held liable for medical malpractice. The doctor’s failure to do the appropriate testing to detect a pregnancy, the nature of the pregnancy or the gestational age of the fetus can serve as the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit. This would be the case if the failure occurred despite symptoms or circumstances that would signal the need for such tests to most obstetricians in the medical community in which the victim lives.
On the other hand, there may be evidence to suggest that it was reasonable not to test because of other symptoms or circumstances that indicated that testing was not necessary. Or, in some situations, the information available does not communicate a clear need to test or take certain measures. Doctors do sometimes have to make judgment calls and while the results may not always be satisfactory, the situation does not rise to the level of actual medical malpractice.
Do You Need an Attorney Experienced with Medical Malpractice?
If you believe that you have been the victim of malpractice during your pregnancy, you should speak to a personal injury attorney immediately to learn more about where you stand. Your attorney can enlist the medical experts who must evaluate your medical care to determine if your doctor was negligent and misdiagnosed problems or failed to diagnose them altogether.
It takes legal and medical expertise to decide if there has been medical malpractice in connection with your prenatal care and birth experience, so do not guess as to whether it may have happened. Get the expert advice you need from a personal injury attorney who is experienced in representing people who have been the victims of malpractice.