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Fetal and obstetrical medical specialists exist to ensure the safest and healthiest pregnancy outcome for each patient.  This includes decreasing and preventing incidences of injury and mortality to a mother and her child.  In some cases, inevitable injuries or death can occur.  However, negative outcomes can also be attributed to the physician’s failure to provide exceptional care.  These situations can be the basis of a medical malpractice claim.

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The Physician’s Duty of Care

The term “duty of care” refers to a physician’s legal and moral obligation to care for a patient.  By accepting a patient, a physician enters into a legal agreement.  Part of this agreement involves exercising the physician’s knowledge, abilities, and resources to benefit the patient’s health and wellbeing.

Guidelines for prenatal duty of care include:

  • Patient assessment based on medical history, lifestyle, and physical examination
  • Keeping and updating a documented medical history for the patient
  • Conducting thorough regular examinations, including ultrasound and non-stress tests
  • Performing risk assessment to identify and prevent potential complications
  • Treatment and supervision of complications that arise
  • Providing adequate warning of specific risks and complications
  • Patient education on proper nutrition and lifestyle as well as potential dangers

Types of Pregnancy Malpractice

Diagnosis Errors

Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose can have fatal consequences.  Often, there is a window of treatment for complications that arise.  When a disease or illness becomes advanced, it may be difficult to cure.  Diagnosis errors by the physician can cause patients to lose the opportunity to receive effective treatment.

Childbirth Injuries

Childbirth injuries can often result from negligent care from a physician.  Failure to properly monitor fetal vital signs can result in avoidable complications or death.  Forceps and vacuum extractors can also cause harm if used improperly.  Brain and nerve damage can occur from incompetent forceps or vacuum extractor use.

Medication Errors

Medical malpractice can occur if a patient is given incorrect dosage instructions.  Misdiagnosis can result in prescription of the incorrect medication.  This can result in serious complications.  Medication errors can also occur if patients are given incorrect dosages by a nurse or assistant.  Faulty or malfunctioning equipment such as a defibrillator or intravenous pump also cause medication errors.

Pregnancy Complications

Throughout the course of a pregnancy, frequent testing and supervision should be conducted.  Many types of prenatal complications exhibit symptoms.  In some cases, symptoms of complications or diseases are similar to typical pregnancy side effects.  Neglect or failure to investigate symptoms can result in life-threatening complications.

Pregnancy complications can include:

  • Fetal distress
  • Breech birth
  • Preeclampsia
  • HELLP syndrome
  • Rh factor incompatibility
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Atypical fetal growth
  • Fetal growth restriction
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Uterine rupture
  • Cholestasis of pregnancy
  • Umbilical cord compression
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension

Obstetric Liability

It is the responsibility of the obstetrician to actively monitor and treat prenatal care patients.  Medical malpractice cases can result if a medical professional fails to diagnose a condition.  Faulty practices can also contribute to medical malpractice.  However, it can be difficult to determine whether or not medical malpractice is the direct cause of an injury or death.

A medical malpractice claim must exhibit:

  • The existence of an agreement and relationship between the physician and patient
  • The patient suffered harm
  • The patient’s harm was directly caused by the physician’s negligence



Coco, Andrew S., et al.  “Trends in prenatal cares settings: association with medical liability.” BMC Public Health.  9 (2009): 257.  Academic OneFile.Web.  20 Dec.  2012.
Collins, Dawn.  “Failure to timely treat ectopic pregnancy.(Malpractice).” Contemporary OB/GYN.  May 2002: 145+.  Academic OneFile.Web.  20 Dec.  2012.
Mykitiuk, Roxanne, Jeff Nisker, and Mark Pioro.”Wrongful birth litigation and prenatal screening.” CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal.  4 Nov.  2008: 1027+.  Academic OneFile.Web.  20 Dec.  2012.