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Reasons Obstetricians Are At High Risk For Claims Of Medical Malpractice

Most physicians will be faced with a liability suit at a point during their career. Obstetricians are among the medical specialties most likely to encounter claims of medical malpractice in the U.S. A recent study by The Doctors Company, a professional liability insurer, examined over 1,100 claims across a 12-year span to gain a better understanding of the risks they face. The results indicated that the most common reasons for malpractice claims were the untimely treatment of incidents of fetal distress (17%), errors associated with delivery (16%) and inadequate pregnancy management (12%). The top five leading specialties by volume of claims for malpractice include:

  • Internal medicine: 15%
  • Obstetrics & gynecology: 13%
  • Surgery (general): 12%
  • Family medicine: 11%
  • Orthopedics: 7%

Untimely (Delayed) Treatment of Fetal Distress

Fetal distress is defined as when a fetus experiences a lack of oxygen during pregnancy or labor. These claims are most likely to be the result of a physician’s delayed action involving the fetal heart rate. Other common examples of delayed treatment include:

  • Mismanagement when treating a mother’s illness or chorioamnionitis, which is the result of a bacterial infection
  • Inaccurate detection of the neonate’s worsening condition signaled by fetal monitor tracings
  • Poor communication between the physician and other medical professionals regarding fetal distress
  • Failures in monitoring patient condition

Errors in Delivery (vaginal)

The second leading allegation is inadequately performing a vaginal delivery, which is related to these four most common problems:

  • Errors in choice or administration of therapy relating to delivery (45%)
  • Delivery complications that were known as potential risks (38%)
  • Inadequate recording of medical findings or informed consent (25%)
  • Failures in communicating with patients, their family, or other providers about alternate options for treatment

Many of these instances involve either an error in deciding to or a delay in executing emergency C-section procedures. In many cases, vaginal delivery is conducted despite a risk of shoulder dystocia, which is where the shoulder impacts the bones of the pelvis.

Inadequate Pregnancy Management

During the pregnancy, errors may occur such as improper adherence to standard testing practices that can lead to infections or other problems. Some of these include an onset of gestational diabetes, congenital disorders, or group B strep infections. The majority of these errors are related to improperly assessing or diagnosing troubling indicators or symptoms. Another common problem within this category involves medication-related mistakes

Suit Outcomes

Overall, about 85% of OB/GYNs will be a named defendant in a lawsuit during their career. This likelihood increases based on the number of years in practice. Claims of medical malpractice that make it through the process to a jury verdict result in favor of the physician about 95% of the time. Approximately 23% of claims are dismissed at some phase of the litigation, of which 14% are actually dropped by the plaintiff in the suit. Roughly 42% of the claims are ended with a settlement agreement, of which 36% occur prior to beginning a trial.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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