Malpractice in Cesarean Sections

Generally, a physician delivers a fetus through an abdominal and uterine incision when further delay in delivery might compromise the health of either the fetus or the mother. The rate of cesarean deliveries in the United States is increasing at a remarkable rate, and the reasons for this increase include the older age of women having children, the use of electronic fetal monitoring, a decrease in the use of forceps, and an increase in repeat cesarean sections and breech deliveries.

Many obstetricians account for the increase in cesarean deliveries as a reaction to the high number of medical malpractice claims arising from vaginal deliveries. However, the cesarean section procedure itself may give rise to claims of medical negligence.

Malpractice suits filed after a birth often allege that the physician negligently failed to perform a cesarean section and permitted the child to be delivered vaginally, resulting in harm. In order to succeed in this type of action, the plaintiff must show that there were clear indications that a cesarean section should have been performed and that the child would not have been injured if the operation had been performed.

In addition to "failure to perform" actions, other medical malpractice actions are based on a claim that the physician delayed performance of a cesarean section and that the child was injured as a result of that delay. The delay may range from minutes to hours.

A third type of claim based on cesarean sections is that although the surgery was timely performed, it was performed in a negligent manner. This type of case is relatively easy to prove if it involves leaving a foreign object in the mother's abdomen. Many courts have found that the operating physician is responsible for this conduct even if the duty of counting the objects was delegated to another staff person. Allegations of the negligent performance of a cesarean section may arise if the mother suffers from a post-operative infection, but due to the fact that infection is a known risk of surgery, this type of claim is usually unsuccessful.

Injury to the child during a cesarean section may result in a medical malpractice action. These injuries range from lacerations to the baby's face to cerebral palsy or brain damage.

Indications that a complication occurred during a cesarean section can be gleaned from the operative record. Normally, the entire procedure is quite short, and it usually takes less than ten minutes from the time anesthesia is given to the delivery of the baby. If the actual time period is much longer than this, there might have been a problem with the delivery.