Can Stillbirth be the Result of Medical Malpractice?

In some circumstances, a mistake made by a doctor, nurse or other medical professional may lead to the stillbirth of a baby. A stillbirth is defined as the death of the fetus after 20 weeks gestation and before birth. In Canada, in 2009, the stillbirth rate was approximately 1 in 148 births.

There are a number of factors that can cause or contribute to the stillbirth of a baby. Medical malpractice is only one possible factor.  Often, the cause of a fetus’ death will be unknown.  Sometimes, however, the death of a fetus can be attributed to the quality of health care that the mother received during her pregnancy.  There are many complications that occur during pregnancy that can be detected and treated early, preventing stillbirths from occurring.  Conditions and complications that are often treatable include:

  • Rh incompatibility
  • High blood pressure
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Infections in the mother
  • Birth defects detected in the fetus, and
  • Decreased movement of the fetus, which may indicate that the fetus is in distress.

With proper monitoring by a healthcare provider during pregnancy, many stillbirths are prevented.  If a healthcare provider fails to detect, diagnose or properly treat one of these conditions as a result of a mistake or negligence, and the fetus dies as a result, then the parents may have a legal claim for medical malpractice against the healthcare provider.

There are measurements and tests that most midwives or obstetricians will perform regularly throughout a patient’s pregnancy to help them determine if the patient is developing any complications.  These tests include monitoring the mother’s weight gain and the increase in size of the fetus, testing the mother’s urine, testing for various infections, and monitoring the fetal heart rate.  A medical mistake may arise if the healthcare provider fails to monitor the mother according to the expected standard, if a test is done improperly, or if, upon receiving the results, the doctor or midwife fails to treat the patient appropriately.

Medical malpractice is a complicated area of law.  It is not always evident to the patient whether or not the care she received met the accepted standard of care.  If the stillbirth of a fetus has affected your family, consult an experienced stillbirth lawyer as soon as possible.  Your lawyer will provide you with valuable advice and information to help you decide if pursuing a medical malpractice claim is right for your family.


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