Medical malpractice cases frequently stem from the delivery room. Improper delivery of a baby can result in long term permanent injury to the newborn and catastrophic damages to the family. For example, cerebral palsy is quite often a result of medical negligence. This week, however, another story came out from Alabama. The Court has upheld a $16 million dollar jury award to a woman for her traumatic birth experience. What makes this case a bit unique is that the damages were exclusively to the mother, the baby was ultimately fine, and includes considerable compensation for the psychological stresses she endured during a horrible delivery.
In this case, the woman was expecting her fourth child. A pro at child birth, she and her husband decided they wanted to do things a little differently and attempt a more “natural” child birth experience at a clinic in Alabama specializing in such deliveries. Natural birth clinics lure mothers to be with promises of cushy suites, a personalized birth plan, autonomy, etc. A nice picture compared to the usual epidural, feet in stirrups and army of nurses at the bedside. Or so she thought. Instead, this poor woman endured a hellish delivery which included being held to the bed against her will and nurses forcing the baby to stay inside her womb for over six minutes while they waited for the doctor to finally arrive and deliver the child. She suffered trauma to her sexual organs and along with these physically injuries has been emotionally traumatized. She experiences frequent panic attacks and has lost her sex life with her husband. The entire family has suffered. There was evidence of medical malpractice not just in the awful delivery and attempt to hold the baby inside her for several minutes, but the jury also recognized the “bait and switch” in that the woman was promised a peaceful and positive birth experience and was instead physically assaulted and abused.
This case was framed around an emerging concept of “obstetric violence”. This term includes anything from a condescending tone from doctors to being forced into unwanted medical procedures such as cesarean sections or episiotomy. It will be very interesting to follow cases like this in the near future as doctors will have to weigh the considerations of the mother and her body much more carefully before making medical decision. Certainly, I believe the courts will always side with a doctor if the mother or child are in danger during pregnancy and they decide to have a C-section, but will the Courts side with doctors when there is not such a medical emergency and they make a quick decision to operate? Will more cases come up charging doctors and nurses with verbal or physical trauma if they are not attentive enough to the mothers needs or otherwise physically aggressive.