Wrongful Death During Labor

Doctors and hospitals have two patients during labor and delivery—the mother and the baby.  Almost all maternal deaths are preventable, yet the number of deaths in the United States continues to grow.


Maternal deaths in the context of child-bearing refer to deaths during pregnancy, labor and delivery, or in the immediate 6 week period after pregnancy.  These numbers do not include accident-related deaths, such as car accidents.

    • 1982:  7.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 births
      • 2004:  13.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 births
        • 2005:  15.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 births
          • 2005:  36.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 births (African-American mothers)

          For more information on this growing problem, see Maternal Death in the United States:  A Problem Solved or a Problem Ignored?

          Maternal Death Causes

          Serious risks to the mother’s health and well-being are usually foreshadowed by signs and symptoms.  Obstetricians and nurses should be on the lookout for those signals so that they can prevent minor or correctable problems from escalating into major medical threats.  The major risks to mothers around the time of labor and delivery are:

          Antepartum Hemorrhage (Bleeding before Childbirth)

            • Placenta Previa:  placenta previa is the abnormal implantation of the placenta near or on top of the cervix.  Signs and symptoms include sudden vaginal bleeding, usually after 28 weeks.  It affects 0.5% of all labors, and can be easily diagnosed with an ultrasound.  If not properly diagnosed, profound bleeding and shock can result.  Risk factors include prior placenta previa, cesarean delivery, alcohol use during pregnancy, women under age twenty, and women over age thirty (increasing risk with higher ages).
              • Placental Abruption:  placental abruption occurs when the placenta prematurely separates from the wall of the uterus.  That separation causes bleeding between the uterine wall and the placenta.  This is particularly dangerous when the blood is trapped in the uterus (concealed bleeding), because the doctor and nurses won’t see any signs of bleeding.  Placental abruption can happen at any time, but about 50% happen between 30 weeks and labor, and 15% happen during labor.  Not only can placental abruption be fatal for the baby, but it can cause maternal death because of hemorrhage (blood loss), cardiac failure or renal failure.
                • Uterine Rupture:  uterine rupture is a life-threatening condition where the uterine wall is breached.  These ruptures can occur before or during labor, and most are associated with prior uterine scars, like prior surgeries or cesarean sections.  In the labor and delivery room, medical malpractice including excessive pushing on the stomach (to assist in delivery) or improper use of oxytocin/Pitocin, can cause uterine rupture.  This complication can cause extreme maternal blood loss or hypovolemic shock.
                  • Nonobstetric Causes of Bleeding:  Doctors should not turn a blind eye to other gynecological complications during pregnancy.  These can include cervical cancer, cervicitis, polyps, and vaginal cancer.  Diagnosis is typically made using Pap smear, cultures, or examination with speculum.

                  Postpartum Hemorrhage (Bleeding after Childbirth)

                  Bleeding after childbirth can be caused by lacerations during cesarean section or by natural causes.  In either case, the bleeding should be quickly identified to prevent significant blood loss.  When excessive bleeding is suspected, doctors should treat their patients with IV fluids, and should prepare for blood transfusions.

                  Preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome

                  Preeclampsia occurs when a mother has dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy.  Failure to treat preeclampsia can cause placental separation, maternal seizures, or HELLP syndrome.  HELLP syndrome is a type of preeclampsia that involves hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelets.  Mothers with HELLP syndrome usually have rapidly deteriorating liver function.  The treatment for preeclampsia is often delivery of the baby.  Physicians must be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of these disorders, and must properly treat them.

                  Pulmonary Embolism and Deep Vein Thrombosis

                  Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot that forms in the body, usually the leg or thigh.  A pulmonary embolus occurs when a blood clot travels to an artery in the lungs, blocking blood flow.  Signs and symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain.  There are a number of tests that doctors should use to determine whether a pregnant woman has a blood clot, and treatment must be given immediately.

                  Cardiac Disease and Arrest

                  Pregnancy causes extensive changes in a woman’s cardiac function—there is a 50% increase in total blood volume, decrease in vascular resistance, for example.  Women who have underlying cardiac disease in particular are at heightened risk for maternal death, largely because of these changes.

                  Damages in Wrongful Death Cases

                  Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one.  A family that suffers this tragedy must continue on and will need help to adjust.  Under the laws of most states, a medical malpractice wrongful death claim can provide the following:

                    • Cost of medical care to the mother between negligence and death
                      • Funeral costs
                        • Loss of wages or earnings of the mother
                          • To beneficiaries (usually the spouse and children, but sometimes parents or other relatives):  mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering

                          These damages are not meant to replace the life that is lost, but can ease the burdens that are caused by that loss.

                          Contact Us

                          If you believe that your loved one died because of medical malpractice during or immediately after pregnancy, contact our lawyers at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation.  We have medical experts on call to examine medical records and determine whether the doctors or hospital should have acted differently.

                          For More Information

                          Photo by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Placta_prv.jpg