Postpartum Negligence Lawyers in Washington, D.C.
Helping families who suffered losses from negligence after birth and labor
Labor and delivery may be the “hard” part of a pregnancy, but newborns and new mothers must be given adequate care during the postpartum period as well. When a doctor, midwife or hospital staff member fails to provide a certain level of postpartum care, you and your new baby could end up with serious illnesses or injuries. At Paulson & Nace, PLLC, our Washington, D.C. postpartum negligence attorneys fight for mothers, newborns, and families who were injured through no fault of their own. If your doctor’s negligent behavior put your family at risk, let our family help you.
What is postpartum medical negligence?
Postpartum means “postnatal.” Every new mother has a period after giving birth where she is supposed to receive a range of medical care designed to ensure her health is progressing in a positive direction. Postpartum negligence is a type of medical malpractice that occurs in the days, weeks, or months directly after the birth of a child. Doctors failing to properly administer that care may result in injuries to the baby, but often it leads to injuries to the mother.
What does postpartum care include?
There are numerous components incorporated into providing postpartum care. If a doctor fails to follow up with any part of aftercare it can carelessly lead to injuries that were preventable. Your OB/GYN should have monitored maternal recovery regarding:
- Mood and emotional well-being. This includes diagnosing and treating depression and anxiety, screening for substance abuse, following up on preexisting mental health disorders that require proper management.
- Infant care and feeding. Assessing the mother’s comfort level and ability to handle all aspects of caring for a newborn, including time management, logistics of returning to work, feeding, housing and daily care needs.
- Sexuality, contraception, and birth spacing. Advising of the risks of pregnancies less than 6 months apart and risks and benefits of repeat pregnancy sooner than 18 months, preeclampsia prevention, contraceptive method consultation.
- Sleep and fatigue. Providing coping mechanisms for sleep deprivation and advise on enlisting help with infant care.
- Physical recovery from birth. Evaluating complications and the pain level from a perineal or cesarean incision and offering guidance on extended recovery, and making necessary referrals for follow-up treatment.
- Chronic disease management. Consult with the mother about any complications during her pregnancy and risks for future pregnancies, perform lab tests and prescribe medication as needed based on each mother’s medical history.
- Health maintenance. Providing necessary immunizations and performing well-woman screening.
Each of these steps holds an important purpose to aid in the recovery of all new mothers. Missing one can mean missing out on a conversation that could have produced important information that should have cued a doctor to act in the patient’s best interest to make sure she healed properly both physically and mentally.
What are the signs of postpartum negligence?
An explosive investigation by USA TODAY found that “every year, thousands of women suffer life-altering injuries or die during childbirth because hospitals and medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster.” This lack of care during labor, delivery, and the postpartum period leads, on average, to more than 50,000 injuries and about 700 maternal deaths each year.
Failure to follow standard safety protocols is the overarching problem when it comes to postpartum negligence. Specific examples include:
- Failure to monitor the mother and/or child
- Failure to update charts and electronic health records
- Failure to order additional testing when necessary
- Failure to properly diagnose distress
- Failure to accurately measure blood loss
- Failure to diagnose and treat changes in blood pressure
- Failure to prevent, diagnose, and/or treat infections
- Handling the baby too roughly, leading to physical injuries
- Failure to obtain consent for a “husband” stitch after an episiotomy or perineal tear
- Discharging the mother and child too soon
- Failing to admit the mother and/or child to an intensive care unit
Mothers experience serious injuries from postpartum negligence
The minutes, days and weeks right after a woman gives birth are among the most dangerous she faces. Whether choosing natural childbirth or a C-section, a new mother’s body needs time to recover. Complications can quickly arise, and if medical professionals do not properly monitor, diagnose, and treat emergencies quickly, it can result in suffering critical injuries. The most common examples include:
- Postpartum hemorrhaging. Postnatal hemorrhage is one of the greatest risks to new mothers. As a 2018 USA TODAY expose showed, most hospitals do not follow standard protocols when it comes to measuring blood loss. Postpartum hemorrhage, if left unchecked, can lead to low blood pressure, seizures, and strokes.
- Postpartum preeclampsia. This is rare, as most cases of preeclampsia are “cured” by childbirth. Postpartum preeclampsia can present with hypertension (high blood pressure), excess protein, changes in vision, low urine output, and severe pain. If left untreated, it can lead to seizures or even death.
- Eclampsia. This is a seizure disorder that may develop during or after pregnancy, and is subsequent to the condition preeclampsia. It left untreated, it can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.
- Infections. New mothers – especially those who have undergone c-sections – are vulnerable to infection. If it spreads through the blood, it could trigger a deadly immune response called sepsis. Endometritis, the inflammation of the endometrium and the myometrium, is another deadly infection that must be treated right away. These infections can develop around the stitching for a c-section or after an episiotomy.
- Pelvic fracture. The pelvic bones can be fractured during childbirth, especially if the baby is large, or if shoulder dystocia occurs. If the fractures are severe and they are left untreated, a mother can sustain permanent injuries to her reproductive organs, bladder, or lower digestive tract. This could necessitate revision surgeries or result in incontinence or sterility.
- Low blood pressure. A dangerous drop in blood pressure (hypotension) can be life-threatening, and may send the mother’s body into shock. It can deprive your heart and brain of oxygen, leading to permanent damage or even death.
- Ruptured uterus. This is frequently the result of a delivery involving excessive pressure or use of labor-inducing drugs. If this condition goes undiagnosed it can lead to death.
Postpartum negligence can lead to birth injuries
Mothers are not the only potential victims of postpartum negligence. Newborns must also be monitored continuously for signs of danger that can leave them with pain and costly, permanent disabilities. In addition to looking for signs during newborn wellness exams such as respiratory distress or jaundice, the key is sussing out information from mothers during their postpartum care.
Babies should be tested for:
- Nerve damage
- Potential skull fracturing if forceps or a vacuum extractor were used during labor
- Accelerated or excessively low heart rates
- Adverse reactions to any antibiotics administered during pregnancy or labor
- Low Apgar scores
In addition, the failure to timely diagnose a transmitted infection or treat an underlying condition could lead to lifelong complications, such as developmental delays, or to the tragic death of your child.
How safe are Washington, D.C. Hospitals for expectant mothers?
Twice a year, the nonprofit Leapfrog Group issues a safety grade to hospitals throughout the country. Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades currently ranks five (5) hospitals in Washington, D.C. As of Winter 2021, the grades Leapfrog assigned for these medical centers are:
- Howard University Hospital: D
- MedStar Washington Hospital Center: C
- George Washington University Hospital: C
- MedStar Georgetown University Hospital: C
- Sibley Memorial Hospital: A
You can access each hospital’s grades here, and review how they did in each category.
Why do hospital scores matter?
Because D.C. has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. The average national rate for maternal mortality is 29.6 lives out of every 100,000. In the District of Columbia, that number is 35.6 out of every 100,000. African American mothers account for 75 percent of those deaths, which is just over 7 percent higher than the national average making D.C. the most dangerous place in the country for Black women to give birth. These numbers are, in part, what prompted the D.C. Council to shut down the labor and delivery unit of United Medical Center in 2017, and to create a maternal mortality review committee in 2019.
Read Christopher Nace’s review: Washington D.C. Hospitals Among Worst in US for Patient and Maternal Safety
How does having a Washington, D.C. postpartum negligence lawyer in your corner help?
Bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital, doctor, midwife, or doula can be a complicated affair. Larger institutions will deploy an army of lawyers whose only goals are to avoid accountability for your injuries, and to avoid paying out compensation that your family deserves.
Generally, you have three years to file a medical malpractice claim in Washington, D.C. If your loved one died, you only have two years to file a wrongful death suit. There are certain exceptions to this rule, but you should not rely on them to help you. You should speak with an experienced postpartum negligence lawyer as soon as you can. Your attorney can help you make a claim for damages to include:
- Medical expenses and associated costs
- Lost wages and loss of future earning potential
- Pain and suffering
- Burial and funeral costs
- Punitive damages, which are designed to punish wrongdoers for acts of reckless, malicious, or fraudulent behavior
At Paulson & Nace, we know how dangerous inadequate postpartum care can be. We have helped families in and around Washington, D.C. whose healthcare providers failed them, or acted in a negligent way. We have secured millions of dollars in compensation for our clients over the last 40 years, helping them obtain the medical treatments and resources they needed to keep their family safe.
We won’t fail you when your doctor failed to provide postpartum care
Paulson & Nace, PLLC, is a premier medical malpractice law firm that feels privileged to have served victims from the greater Washington, D.C. area to West Virginia for more than 40 years. We create options for your family when your future has been put at risk by negligent postpartum care. To schedule your free, no-obligation case evaluation, please call us now at 202.463.1999 or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form.