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Can You Sue a Midwife for Medical Malpractice?

Midwives provide assistance to a mother during pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and after delivery. Midwives in the United States have to undergo formal training, which could include certification as a midwife or as a nurse midwife. Many mothers appreciate having a midwife during pregnancy to help them through the process. Unfortunately, some midwives may fail to give proper care, which could lead to injuries for the mother and baby. 

If you were under the care of a midwife and the midwife breached their duty of care, causing an injury, you may be able to sue the midwife for negligence or malpractice. A malpractice claim can allow you to recover compensation to pay for the damages and make sure the midwife is held accountable for their mistakes.   

If you have any questions about a malpractice claim against a midwife because of a birth injury or other medical problem, talk to an experienced medical malpractice team. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

What Does a Midwife Do?

According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, midwife practice “encompasses a full range of primary health care services for women from adolescence beyond menopause. These services include the independent provision of primary care, gynecologic and family planning services, preconception care, care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period, care of the normal newborn during the first 28 days of life, and treatment of male partners for sexually transmitted infections.”

Midwives can work in a variety of settings, including in the patient’s home, health clinics, hospitals, birth centers, public health systems, and private offices. Like other healthcare professionals, midwives provide an initial assessment, ongoing monitoring, diagnosis, and treatment. Nurse-midwives can:

  • Perform physical examinations
  • Prescribe medications
  • Admit patients to the hospital
  • Order lab and diagnostic tests

Nursing Midwives and Non-Nurse Midwives

Not all midwives have to go through the same training and licensing requirements. There are certified professional midwives (CPMs) that do not need to have a nursing degree or nursing credential. The scope of practice for a CPM depends on state law. Some states do not allow CPMs to practice nurse midwifery without a nursing license. In most states, a CPM cannot administer medication, without additional training, and may be limited in what kind of medication they can administer. 

A Certified Midwife (CM) does not require a nursing degree. A CM includes education, training, and licensing in midwifery and women’s health. CMs are only licensed in a handful of states, including New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Rhode Island. In some states, CMs can prescribe medication. 

Certified midwives who can also practice nursing care are qualified as a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). The Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) is an advanced nursing credential, where the professional has both a nursing degree and education in midwifery and women’s health. CNMs can practice in hospitals, birth centers, or home facilities. CNMs have a broad range of practice, including administering medication, infection checks, pregnancy counseling, consultations, and referrals to doctors for medical treatment. 

After going through the required post-graduate, accredited training program, CNMs and CMs must pass the American Midwifery Certification Board exams, be licensed by their state’s health authority, and recertify as required by state law.  

Types of Midwife Malpractice Injuries

A midwife can cause similar types of injuries to the mother and baby as a doctor or other healthcare provider would. Errors can occur early in the pregnancy, during labor, or after the child is delivered. Examples of types of birth injuries that can be caused by a midwife include: 

In general, most medical malpractice cases involving pregnant patients and newborns involve failure to properly monitor the patient, failure to refer to an emergency, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, too much or improper force, and failing to follow safety and sanitation protocols. We can look more into these problem areas to help you identify if you may have been the victim of midwife malpractice. 

Failure to Monitor the Patient and Baby

The fetus is safely growing inside the womb and not always easy to monitor. Health care professionals have a few options to monitor the patient and baby, including diagnostic tests and imaging tests. Imaging, like an ultrasonography, can show the development of the baby, movement, and body structure. However, a lot of the safety monitoring is done through the mother. 

The mother directly provides blood, nutrients, and oxygen to the growing baby. If the mother is having problems with oxygenation, illness, malnutrition, or there are concerns about the mother’s vital signs, it can directly impact the baby. If the mother is not getting enough oxygen then the baby is not getting enough oxygen. Oxygen deprivation is one of the most serious concerns for a developing baby because even short periods of hypoxia can lead to brain damage. 

Signs of distress in the mother may indicate a possible concern for fetal distress. If the mother or baby were showing signs of distress and the midwife did not take action, downplayed the concerns, or delayed seeking medical treatment, it could indicate malpractice. 

Failure to Refer an Emergency

Many medical professionals, including doctors, delay making an emergency referral because they think they can handle the concern. However, an emergency in the home does not have the resources available for emergency medical care. Emergency rooms are prepared for just about any type of emergency, including birth emergencies. If the midwife was clearly out of their element and things were spiraling out of control, the midwife may be liable for failing to seek emergency assistance at the first sign of problems.  

Too Much or Improper Force

Birth complications can delay delivery or cause problems that make it more difficult to safely deliver the baby. There can be many causes of birth complications, including:

In some cases, the labor may be taking too long and could be putting the child at risk. An emergency c-section could be the best medical option. However, some doctors, nurses, and midwives overcommit to a natural birth and will continue with trying to deliver the child manually, even if it is not safe for the mother and child. Using too much force or inappropriate force trying to deliver the child can cause physical trauma to the child and the mother. It may also lead to other serious injuries if the blood and oxygen are cut off to the baby for too long. 

Failing to Follow Infection Protocols 

The body has a natural way to deal with many types of infections we encounter in the environment. However, an infant may be more susceptible to infection injuries, especially while in the womb. It is important for any type of health care for the doctor, nurses, midwives, and other caregivers to practice proper safety and sterilization protocols. Unnecessarily introducing infection to the mother and baby can be dangerous. 

Fetal infections can be passed from the mother to the baby through the umbilical cord or through the environment in the uterus. Neonatal infections occur after the baby has been born. If the baby is delivered and handled without proper sanitation and cleaning procedures, the midwife could put the baby at risk of a neonatal infection

How Do You Know If the Midwife Committed Malpractice? 

It can be difficult to be sure if you were a victim of medical malpractice. In many cases, the parents have a feeling whether something went wrong or there may be something wrong with the baby. Many parents ignore this feeling, hoping for the best and wanting to focus on giving their child the best care possible. However, if you suspect something went wrong, there are a lot of reasons to seek help. 

A medical malpractice lawsuit can provide compensation and ensure accountability. Care for a child with a birth injury can be expensive. A serious birth injury requires a lifetime of care, including medical care, home modifications, physical therapy, in-home care, and providing for residential care facilities in the future. A medical malpractice award can go a long way to giving your child the best care possible. 

Another reason that you should take action if something went wrong is to help other families. Many doctors, nurses, and midwives who have committed medical malpractice have done it more than once. Patients are surprised after filing a medical malpractice claim that their doctor or nurse has a history of similar complaints, with many settling out of court. Bringing the problems to light can help result in changes and accountability, to help reduce the risk of injury to other children in the future. 

If you are not sure if you were injured because of malpractice, a free consultation from an experienced malpractice law firm can go a long way to getting you the answers you need. 

How Do You File a Malpractice Claim Against a Midwife?

Filing a medical malpractice claim against a midwife is similar to filing a malpractice claim against a nurse. A nurse-midwife is held to a certain standard of care and their actions will be compared to the standards of care for their profession. In order to show malpractice, the injury victim has to show: 

  • The midwife owed the patient (mother and baby) a duty of care 
  • The midwife breached the duty of care by deviating from the professional standards
  • The breach caused an injury and damage to the baby or mother

The duty of care in a midwife malpractice case is generally based on the medically accepted standards of a midwife, given similar training and experience, under similar circumstances. If the midwife did something that other midwives would have considered outside the standard of care, reckless, careless, or medically unnecessary, that may represent a breach. 

In a malpractice case, medical experts are used to educate the jury and provide their expert opinion. An expert in a midwife malpractice case could include an experienced midwife, nurse-midwife educator, or other medical experts who understand the training, scope of practice, and experience of a midwife in a similar setting.

Is the Hospital Also Responsible?

If you are concerned the midwife does not have enough insurance coverage to pay for your losses, there may be other named defendants responsible for causing the injuries. Medical care often involves multiple caregivers, including clinics, hospitals, doctors, nurses, and others. If the midwife was the employee of a hospital, clinic, or birth center, then the hospital could also be liable for the negligence of the midwife. 

Hospitals are liable for the negligence of their employees. This includes doctors, nurses, and midwives who are employees of the hospital. This is known as vicarious liability. This is an old standard in tort law, where the employer was often in a better position to compensate an injury victim who was injured because of the actions of the employee while in the course of their job. 

You may not be sure who is an employee and who is an independent healthcare worker. This can be a complex question that even the midwife is not aware of. In some cases, hospitals and clinics call workers “independent contractors” to try and avoid liability. However, it is a legal question whether someone is a contractor or employee. Even if the hospital calls an employee a “contractor,” the hospital could still be liable if the worker meets the legal definition of an employee. 

In other situations, the hospital could be directly liable for injuries caused by workers. Hospitals are generally required to act reasonably when hiring, training, and supervising employees, including nurses and midwives. A hospital could be liable for negligent training, failure to supervise, or allowing dangerous nurses to continue working. 

For example, a hospital needed to hire a midwife. Only one midwife applied and the midwife had a history of substance abuse while on the job and had been terminated from 3 other hospitals. The midwife did not have their certification up to date but promised to be recertified soon. If the hospital hired the midwife and the midwife negligently caused an injury to a baby, the hospital may be liable for negligence for their careless actions in hiring the midwife to provide care on the hospital’s behalf. 

Next Step in a Midwife Malpractice Claim

The best way to find out about your options in a medical malpractice case involving a midwife’s care is to talk to an experienced attorney. Experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys can review your case, get an expert review, and help you understand your options after a medical negligence injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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