ERNST & YOUNG
Injury to a mother and her unborn or newborn baby during the delivery process can occur due to several reasons. Some situations are unavoidable even with the best course of treatment, but there are situations when doctors make mistakes, particularly when using Pitocin to induce labor.
In this post, we’ll highlight preventable injuries to mother and baby as a result of induced labor malpractice. You will learn more about Pitocin, how it is used, and its side effects. The post will also cover the essential steps to filing a medical malpractice suit.
If you believe you or your child are suffering as a result of Pitocin used during labor, read this article carefully. Before going further, contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney.
What Is Pitocin?
Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, the hormone that stimulates labor contractions so that the baby is born. However, too much Pitocin poses severe risks for the mother and her perinatal child, so it must only be used when absolutely necessary. Even then, it must be used at the lowest doses and the mother given time to respond to it.
What Is It Used For?
There are several medically appropriate reasons to use Pitocin. When the mother’s body isn’t producing enough oxytocin to cause labor to progress, doctors can use Pitocin to get the contractions going.
Pitocin may also be used to initiate labor in women who need medical induction, e.g., mothers with preeclampsia or Rhesus factor problems, or diabetic mothers. It can also be used:
- When membranes rupture prematurely, and delivery is indicated
- When pregnancy goes beyond 41 weeks without spontaneous labor
- If mother has hypertension and baby has reached full-term
- To manage inevitable or incomplete abortion in the second trimester
Pitocin should not be used to induce elective labor in patients that don’t need medical induction, only to increase contractions once labor begins. It should be initiated at very low levels and increased slowly depending on the mother’s response.
Side Effects and Risks of Pitocin
There is some debate surrounding the use of Pitocin labor induction. Recent studies indicate that it has serious risks for mother and baby, but there isn’t enough information to make definite conclusions.
Regardless, patients using Pitocin for labor induction should be informed regarding the potential risks. Mothers are at risk for the following side effects:
- Cardiac arrhythmia – irregular heartbeat
- Pelvic hematoma – blood vessel damage around the pelvis
- Uterine rupture
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage
The unborn baby will be affected depending on Pitocin’s effects on the mother. A Pitocin overdose can also have side effects on the baby separate from the mother. These mostly result from lack of oxygen, which can lead to cerebral palsy, brain damage, liver damage, and heart problems.
Further, there are situations where Pitocin must not be used at all, such as:
- If there is a considerable cephalo-pelvic disproportion (baby’s head is large)
- The baby is in distress and delivery is still not coming
- Hypertonic or hyperactive uterus
- Vaginal delivery contraindicated for the mother
- Patient is hypersensitive to Pitocin
While further studies into the safety of Pitocin are in progress, Pitocin must be administered cautiously and monitored closely. If this doesn’t happen and consequently you get injured, you should seek the advice of a reputable medical malpractice attorney.
What Is Induced Labor Malpractice
Over 40 percent of mothers are induced during delivery, and Pitocin is the most commonly used drug for induction. However, most mothers are healthy and have healthy full-term pregnancies, which means Pitocin should be used at most 30 percent of the time.
Even though medical induction is sometimes necessary, it should be a backup instead of being used to speed labor along for other reasons. Worse still, some doctors administer “Pit to distress”, i.e., increase Pitocin dosage to the point of fetal distress. Contractions are supposed to be cyclic to give the unborn baby time to recover in between.
At high dosages, Pitocin induces more powerful, non-stop contractions, which means the baby doesn’t recover, gets hyperstimulated and eventually goes into distress. At this point, a doctor has a reason for “emergency” cesarean section – a more lucrative option for them.
How to File Malpractice Lawsuit
If a doctor’s negligence or malpractice injured you and/or your baby, you may be able to file a claim against the doctor, nurses and/or hospital where it happened. You need to contact a lawyer to help you figure out whether your claim is valid and file a claim if so.
Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit isn’t as simple as it looks. You need to prove that:
- The doctor owed you a duty of care
- The doctor did not follow that standard of care
- As a result, you and/or your baby were injured
- The injury was the direct or proximal cause of damage to you and/or your baby
You can claim damages for expenses for corrective procedures or extended hospitalization, and loss of future income for the child and caregiving parent. It also includes specialized equipment care, therapy and rehabilitation expenses, pain and suffering, and funeral expenses if there was a death.
Contact a Lawyer
Medical malpractice isn’t an area of law you can tackle yourself. If you think you have a claim, the first person to talk to must be a medical malpractice lawyer.
He/she can guide your actions to ensure your claim has the best chance of succeeding. Depending on your state, there are pre-suit requirements to be fulfilled before filing, and the lawyer can guide you related to them. They know the laws within your jurisdiction and procedure for collecting evidence among other essential details.
Additionally, there’s a time limit within which you can legally bring a claim, called the “statute of limitations”. In some states, the period begins right when the malpractice was committed, regardless of when you find out about the injury. This is why you need to see a lawyer as soon as possible after you discover the potential for harm from malpractice.
Contact the Medical Professionals Involved
Before making a claim, you need to contact the doctor that attended to you. You want to understand what may have gone wrong and allow them to determine whether or not there is a remedy. In many cases, the doctor may perform corrective procedures free of charge or suggest another solution.
If the medical professional doesn’t help you, you can contact the licensing board. Licensing boards cannot order compensation, but they can issue a warning or take disciplinary action against the errant medical professional.
Obtain Medical Records
Once you’ve decided to file a claim, your attorney will ask you to authorize him/her to retrieve your medical records. They may ask for all your records or records from a specified date range. Some states require the law or statute allowing the release of medical records to be included, and there may be a fee.
With your written consent, the attorney will retrieve the records to use as part of his evidence. If the medical facility refuses to release the records without a valid reason, your attorney can pursue a medical subpoena to compel them to.
Get a Medical Assessment to Confirm Case Viability
States are increasingly requiring patients to include a “certificate of merit” before filing their suit. The certificate is given when you contact another medical expert to review your medical records and the path leading to your injuries. The expert certifies that the original medical professional deviated from the standard of care, leading to your injuries.
There are also states where you must present your claim to a medical malpractice review panel. This panel hears arguments, reviews the evidence, and listens to expert testimony, then makes a ruling. The panel cannot award damages, but its findings must be presented in court in these states.
Notify Insurance Companies
You may need to formally or informally bring a potential suit to the insurances companies or hospitals covering the medical professional being sued. Sometimes, the notice will trigger an internal review of your case, and the insurer or hospital may offer an acceptable settlement.
You will need a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf so that they don’t take advantage of you. Even though they do this to strengthen their negotiating power, it can be unpleasant to experience. An attorney to present your intent to file suit is the best thing to do.
Consider an Out-of-Court Settlement
Litigating a medical malpractice suit can be expensive and time-consuming, which is why many plaintiffs decide to settle out-of-court. Even after winning, sometimes insurance companies may reject the claim, which means it’s in your best interest to settle.
After the settlement, you give up the right to pursue any further legal action related to the injury or malpractice. The defendant, their insurance, or their hospital may be the ones paying the settlement. An attorney should be present during all stages of an out-of-court settlement negotiation to protect your interests.
File a Lawsuit
If all other out-of-court settlement avenues fail, the final step is to get an attorney to draft and file the complaint in court on your behalf. In the complaint, you allegations are formally cited against the medical professional or hospital. Once the complaint is filed, the lawsuit will begin.
Medical professionals and hospitals have a duty to provide the utmost care to their patients. If they abuse this trust and deliberately endanger a mother and/or her child during the delivery process, they must be held accountable.
Bringing a lawsuit in the area of obstetric malpractice is complicated because in some cases there are two complainants – mother and child. In others, the child isn’t considered separately from the mother depending on the point where injury occurred.
If you faced obstetric malpractice, you need a qualified malpractice attorney with experience in handling obstetric misconduct. Talk to them before approaching anyone else, and allow them to maximize your chances of getting justice.