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Maternal Death During Child Birth

The death of a mother during or after the birth of a child is not a common occurrence. Consequently, all maternal death cases need to be carefully evaluated to determine if the health care provider was medically negligent.

We have successfully settled many million-dollar cases on behalf of the victims and their family members to ensure they were adequately compensated to cover:

  • Medical expenses
  • Household bills
  • Daycare costs
  • Lost wages
  • Future lost earnings
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress


Our birth injury lawyers represent injured victims in lawsuits involving birth injury or wrongful death of the newborn or mother. In addition, the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC work tirelessly to ensure the surviving family members have justice for losing their loved one involved in a maternal death during childbirth.

Our legal team has successfully prosecuted defendants whose negligence caused the unexpected premature death of a mother or other maternal or birth injury during labor or delivery.

Our childbirth injury attorneys are available to answer any legal questions you have on how to receive the monetary compensation you deserve if you lost your loved one through someone else's negligence. Should you have additional questions, we invite you to contact our office for a free review of your legal rights. Call us today for your free consultation.

It wasn't long ago that childbirth was commonly viewed as one of life's most dreaded events experienced by women of reproductive age and pregnant. Their fear was fueled by the number of maternal deaths caused by many factors, one of them being the decline in maternal health and health practitioner care.

During the 18th century, there was a high maternal mortality rate of an alarming 12% per 100,000 live births. Moreover, health complications such as dehydration, blood loss, convulsion, and infection were accepted in the birthing process.

While the pregnancy-related mortality ratio has decreased in the developed world since the 1800s, American women's current maternal mortality rates during childbirth show that there are still dangers to be addressed.

Have Advancements in Medical Technology Improved Maternal Health?

Thankfully, advancements in modern medicine have improved maternal health and dramatically reduced the incidence of pregnancy and delivery complications in women in the United States. In addition, a safer environment and improved health system have reduced the maternal mortality rate and birth injuries.

Preventing most maternal deaths is possible with more skilled health personnel under regular supervision attending births, and upgraded facilities, with the correct equipment and supplies available. Should a pregnancy complication arise, the personnel can refer patients to emergency obstetric care.

Nonetheless, maternal deaths remain higher in specific segments and ethnicities of the population, such as non-Hispanic black women. Focused public health efforts can inform and educate women about pregnancy health care and the risks of maternal deaths.

However, as with all areas of medicine, it is ultimately up to physicians and medical staff to monitor the mother and child for physical complications and mental health conditions and recommend the needed treatment promptly.

Maternal Death Statistics

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and their Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, there has been a significant rise in the number of maternal deaths during childbirth across America since the early 1980s.

These statistics account for the maternal mortality data (excluding accidental or incidental causes) associated with childbearing before, during, and six weeks after delivery. These statistics reveal that:

  • In 1982, there were 7.5 maternal deaths per100,000 live births
  • In 2004, there were 13.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births
  • In 2005, there were 15.1 maternal deaths per100,000 live births
  • In 2015, there were 26.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births

In 2015, the global maternal mortality rate was 8 per 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, the lifetime risk of maternal mortality ranges from 1 in 5,400 in high-income countries to 1 in 45 in low-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africans have the highest maternal mortality ratio of 533 per 100,000 live births.

The increase inthe number of maternal deaths has more than doubled in 23 years. The pregnancy-related deaths involving African-American mothers, especially in low-income or under developed countries, reached a staggering 36.5 per 100,000 live births in 2005.

Pregnancy-related mortality ratios in the US for ages 35 to 39 show they have twice the likelihood of having maternal mortality from pregnancy-related causes than pregnant and parenting people aged 20 to 24. The risk for pregnant and birthing people who are 40 and older is even higher.

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 by 2030. Global maternal deaths in 2017 were rated at 810 women per day that died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Preventing Maternal Mortality

Legislation has recently been introduced to provide $12 million per year for the next five years to improve maternal mortality review committees in every state to curtail maternal mortality rates. The review committees will assist in measuring maternal mortality data that will be included in the National Vital Statistics System.

Merck for Mothers has committed $500 million over ten years to reduce the global preventable maternal mortality and has funded prevention efforts in twelve US states.

Decreasing the maternal mortality ratio will require removing the barriers restricting access to maternal health services, both in the system and in society. Assisting with this could be implementing the WHO strategy that aims to open access to reproductive, maternal, and newborn services and quality care available to all with universal health coverage.

What Is Preeclampsia?

During normal pregnancy development, the body increases the production of blood volumes. However, in some women, blood volume production is accompanied by a steep and dangerous increase in blood pressure.

Women who had had 'normal' blood pressure readings before they were pregnant and then experienced high blood pressure combined with heightened protein levels in their urine can develop preeclampsia.

Doctors do not know what causes preeclampsia, leading to pregnancy-related mortality. However, five percent of all pregnant females will develop the condition. The only known significant warning signs and symptoms associated with preeclampsia include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Proteinuria (elevated protein levels in the urine)

Typically, the expecting or delivering mother will be unaware that they have hypertension or elevated protein levels (proteinuria). The doctors will usually only diagnose the condition upon observation during an antenatal (while pregnant or during delivery) visit.

When untreated or undiagnosed, preeclampsia can result in serious or deadly complications for both the mother and baby. Given the universally accepted dangers associated with preeclampsia, health care providers should be mindful of the maternal mortality risk and carefully monitor the pregnant woman's condition.

What Causes Preeclampsia?

Medical science has not yet determined the common causes of preeclampsia. However, some research studies show that the condition develops as the body's reaction to placenta issues when there is restricted blood flow due to narrowing blood vessels or hormonal changes.

When the blood vessels become narrowed, normal blood flow can become extremely limited and cause problems that include:

  • Blood vessel damage
  • Immune system issues
  • Insufficient uterus blood flow

However,genetic factors may also play a crucial role in developing preeclampsia and other pregnancy-related causes.

The Progression of Preeclampsia

In the later stages of preeclampsia, the mother may experience edema (fluid retention) where the face, ankles, feet, or hands become swollen. Swelling is normal during pregnancy, especially in the last few months, so differentiating normal pregnancy-related swelling from preeclampsia can be confusing.

However, there are significant indicators that could occur in the progression of the stages of preeclampsia leading to birth injuries or maternal deaths arising that include:

  • Blurred vision, including the sensation of flashing lights
  • Overall malaise (a general sense of illness or discomfort)
  • Rapid but unexpected weight gain as the body responds to fluid retention
  • Severe headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Impaired liver function with or without intense pain below the ribs (right side only)
  • Decreasing blood platelet levels
  • Vomiting
  • Decreasing urine output

Preeclampsia developing before the child was born could cause stunted fetal growth when the blood supply to the placenta is restricted.

Treating Preeclampsia

Without proper treatment, the mother can die. Unfortunately, in some countries, the mortality rate of mothers during childbirth has significantly spiked, even though there have been significant advancements in medicines and technology.

Currently, effective treatment for mothers experiencing preeclampsia who are in danger of pregnancy-related mortality includes:

  • Antihypertensives are prescribed to lower the mother's blood pressure to prevent maternal injuries.
  • Corticosteroids seem effective at treating HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia because steroids improve liver function and increase blood platelet levels. However, taking corticosteroids to treat preeclampsia could prolong the pregnancy or lead to maternal injury.
  • Anticonvulsants are prescribed in severe birth injury cases to avoid a seizure. The administration of this drug might include magnesium sulfate.

Other Causes for Maternal Death During Childbirth

Unexpectant maternal deaths often occur when giving birth due to a pre-existing pregnancy risk factor that does not display itself until the mother is in labor or delivering the infant.

However, maternal deaths are also caused by medical malpractice when the obstetrician misdiagnoses a pregnant mother's condition, performs a catastrophic mistake during labor or delivery, or ruins a surgical procedure, including a cesarean section.

Other times, maternal deaths occur during labor or delivery due to a reaction to a toxic medication or a defective medical device. The most common causes associated with maternal death during childbirth include the following pregnancy-related causes:

  1. Placenta Previa - Typically, the placenta in the womb will attach to the upper part of the uterus opposite the cervix. However, with placenta previa, the blood vessels connecting the uterus to the placenta can tear and cause uncontrollable bleeding in the mother and the baby.
  2. Hypertensive disorders - Preeclampsia (hypertension in a pregnant woman after the 20th week of pregnancy) and eclampsia (onset of seizures in pregnant women with preeclampsia).
  3. Uterine Rupture - The uterine wall can tear, usually at the site of a previous cesarean section incision

Early signs of uterine rupture include:

  • Severe bleeding in the vagina
  • A bulge in the pubic bone
  • Less intense or slower contractions
  • Abnormal abdominal soreness or pain
  • Sudden intense pain between labor contractions
  • Intense pain that occurs at an earlier uterine scar site
  1. Placental Abruption - The placenta can separate from the uterine lining, usually in the third trimester, and produce a gush of blood. The severe condition can deprive the fetus of nutrients and oxygen and cause life-threatening, severe bleeding.
  2. Complications associated with Cervical Cancer or Polyps - Many pregnant mothers develop polyps caused by increased estrogen hormone levels. Cervical polyps usually develop as a benign condition but can become cancerous. Early warning signs during pregnancy include intense pelvic pain and blood-tinged vaginal discharge.
  3. Postpartum Hemorrhage- Mothers who experience bleeding after the child was born often suffer from an undiagnosed laceration from natural causes or during a cesarean section.
  4. Heart Disease and Cardiac Arrest - The ordinary course of a woman's pregnancy can lead to extensive changes in the expected mother's cardiac function. Due to increased blood volume, the mother might experience decreasing vascular resistance, leading to cardiac arrest. Other pregnant females who suffer from pre-existing cardiac problems, including heart disease, might have an increased potential risk of an unexpected maternal death before, during, or after delivery.
  5. Placenta accreta - Pregnancy-related placenta accreta happens when the placenta grows deeply in the uterine wall. Placenta accreta can cause blood clots or severe blood loss after delivery.

Sometimes with maternal deaths, the mother dies when giving birth because the doctor failed to diagnose or address risk factors, including blood clot problems or preeclampsia.

Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Women who are pregnant can experience extreme complications that result in maternal death when an amniotic fluid embolism develops. The fluid from the amniotic sac can enter the mother's circulatory system and bring "fetal debris" that migrates to other areas of the mother's body, including the organs.

The mother's body typically reacts to the potential of an amniotic fluid embolism by going into shock, causing traumatic, premature labor or placental abruption.

When the embolism develops, the medical professional typically uses vacuum extraction or forceps during delivery. Usually, the warning signs for an amniotic embolism are easy to anticipate, so a failure to protect the mother from obvious risk factors might constitute legal issues, including medical malpractice.

Maternal Deaths and Fatal Cesarean Section

A cesarean section can carry significant life-threatening risks but might be a necessary treatment to preserve the safety and health care of both the baby and the mother.

However, any mistake during the procedure could claim either life or both, leading to a medical malpractice lawsuit. In addition, any time a physician fails to diagnose maternal hardship or fetal distress during labor and delivery, a preventable birth injury or maternal mortality will likely occur.

Maternal Deaths Based on Ethnicities

According to the World Health Organization, 94% of all maternal deaths occur in lower-middle-income to low-income countries or under developed countries.

African-American women tend to have poor or less quality prenatal care and a higher incidence rate of high blood pressure early on during the pregnancy, significantly more than non-Hispanic white women. In addition, black women are more prone to developing fibroids, leading to significant hemorrhaging after delivering their baby.

The reasons for high maternal mortality rates and why many women don’t seek care during pregnancy or after childbirth can be:

  • Poverty
  • No health insurance
  • Distance to facilities
  • Lack of information
  • Inadequate and poor quality services
  • Cultural beliefs and practices

The contributing factors detailed above and a negligent doctor disregarding the mother's physical and mental health care can dramatically increase their risk of severe injuries and death during pregnancy and delivery.

However, the increasing risk factors associated with African-American women giving birth do not need to cause severe complications. Proper prenatal care and focus on maternal health can reduce maternal mortality and many pregnancy-related injuries among black women.

Post-Delivery Infections

A vaginal delivery exposes women to various medical instruments, medical personnel, medical care, and medical facilities that must be kept sterile.

In addition to the usual trauma inherent with a 'normal' delivery for a woman, many minor and ordinary complications such as vaginal tears, episiotomy incisions, and fissures may further expose a woman to unwanted bacteria or unsanitary conditions or techniques.

Cesarean sections present other risks, complications due to infection, and improper surgical technique. Doctors performing the procedure must be mindful of the risk of excessive bleeding and uterine infections when closing the incisions made through the uterus and abdominal wall. If not, the doctors may be sued in a medical malpractice claim.

What to Do When Your Spouse Dies During Labor and Delivery

The mother's unexpected death in labor after delivery is rare, but nothing can replace losing a loved one. Unfortunately, doctors make mistakes, or hospitals and nurses act carelessly, recklessly, or negligently, causing catastrophic problems, including congenital disabilities and the death of the mother or child.

Many families facing the tragic outcome of maternal death during childbirth seek justice to hold those responsible for losing their loved one by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. However, severe cases can be complicated and require an experienced personal injury attorney specialized in examining maternal mortality and wrongful death cases.

Hiring Experienced Maternal Death Attorneys

The medical malpractice attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers can assist you by explaining your legal options. We will fight aggressively on your behalf in birth injury lawsuits to provide your family with the resources and financial recovery you and your children deserve for your loss.

Contingency “No Win, No Fee” Guarantee

Our law firm gets results quickly because we understand you need money now. We offer every client a "No Win/No-Fee" Guarantee, meaning if we cannot secure monetary compensation on your behalf, you owe us nothing.

Contact our attorneys today (888-424-5757) to schedule a free, no-obligation case consultation to discuss the merits of your monetary recovery claim. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our law office remains private through an attorney-client relationship.


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