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What is a Wrongful Death of the Mother Lawsuit?

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What is a Wrongful Death of the Mother Lawsuit?

Legal Counsel for Wrongful Death of Pregnant Mothers in Chicago

When a woman is pregnant, her needs are often set aside for the needs of the baby growing inside of her. Unfortunately, when physicians focus more on the infant, they tend to neglect the mother’s health. The mother is critical to a successful outcome in the pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

The needs of both the mother and infant must be considered. If the mother dies during pregnancy, labor, or delivery, it is tragic for the entire family. If this death happens because a physician was negligent, then it may qualify for a wrongful death of the mother lawsuit.

Heightened Rates of Maternal Deaths

The United States, despite having access to leading technology, has experienced an increase in maternal mortality, per the National Institute of Health (NIH). In fact, the rate is higher than 40 other countries, and most of these maternal deaths are preventable.

Some information provided from NIH includes:

  • The death rate in maternal is increasing, not decreasing.
  • The United States has the 41st highest rate for preventable maternal deaths.
  • The U.S. death ratio was 7.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, as of 1982.
  • The United States ratio of maternal deaths in 2004 was 13.2 per 100,000 live births.
  • The maternal death ratio as of 2005 was 15.1 deaths per 100,000 live births.

MedScape also released an article highlighting the increased maternal mortality rate in the United States. From 2000 to 2014, they note a 26.6 percent increase in maternal deaths.

The four leading causes of maternal death were:

  • Embolic Disease – Embolic disease is a class of conditions that cause a deadly block of a major artery in the body. When detected early enough, they might be treatable and the patient may live. However, when they go undetected, they can be fatal or lead to a devastating stroke. Common types of embolic disease include pulmonary embolism, arterial embolism, and air embolism. While not always preventable, physicians and labor/delivery nursing staff know the risks during delivery; therefore, they should be looking out for such conditions.
  • Hypertensive Disease – Pregnancy naturally causes heightened blood pressure. For some women, too high blood pressure can force the blood against the arterial walls too much, which causes the heart to work under extreme pressure. Women receive regular blood pressure checks during pregnancy, and if physicians fail to notate or act when pressure is high, they could be negligent.
  • Hemorrhage – Bleeding during labor and delivery is normal, but excessive bleeding could lead to severe complications and become life-threatening. Staff should ensure that a mother is clotting appropriately post-delivery to avoid such complication.
  • Sepsis – Sepsis is a life-threatening infection that is usually preventable. Early detection and treatment of an infection (whether during pregnancy or after delivery) may prevent a woman’s body from entering sepsis. If sepsis goes untreated, the body could go into septic shock, which results in multi-system organ failures, and often death.

Maternal Deaths Are Preventable

Most of the maternal deaths that occur in the United States are preventable. Despite the advancements in medical technology, the mortality rate is increasing, when one would expect it to decrease dramatically.

Using those four common causes of maternal death in the United States, taking a closer look at each can explain situations that would lead to a maternal death suit, but also highlight how these situations are preventable.


  • Undiagnosed or Failure to Monitor Placenta Previa – Placenta previa occurs when the placenta has lodged itself into the cervix. After 28 weeks, a woman may experience spotting or heavy bleeding. This conditions is quickly and easily detected via ultrasound; therefore, if OBs fail to diagnose it or fail to take precautions for a woman experiencing it, they could be liable for her death.
  • Undiagnosed Uterine Rupture – If a woman has previous surgical scars (such as a previous C-section), she is at higher risk for uterine rupture. Excessive pushing on the stomach or improper use of Pitocin (to induce labor) could lead to a uterine rupture.
  • Untreated Excessive Bleeding – Bleeding after childbirth may be common, but should be monitored and treated to prevent excessive loss of volume.

This is a condition that comes from excessively high blood pressure during pregnancy. When high blood pressure is left untreated, it can lead to seizures, organ failure, and placental separation. Physicians are required to monitor a patient’s blood pressure throughout pregnancy to catch the early warning signs of preeclampsia.

Deep Vein Thrombosis or Pulmonary Embolism
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is a clot that forms in the leg or thigh. A pulmonary embolism occurs when a clot forms and travels to an artery in the lungs, which then blocks blood flow. There are tests which a physician can do to prevent this from happening and for early detection, so that a pregnant woman receives treatment before a blood clot becomes life-threatening.

When a mother dies due to a complication of her pregnancy or labor/delivery, and that complication could have been prevented, it is a wrongful death. If the death was the result of negligence or intentional acts, these deaths are also wrongful deaths. Lastly, the death may be related to the infant’s distress during labor; if the child also dies, a claim for the wrongful death of the mother and fetus may be filed.

Any family members coping with the passing of a mother during labor, delivery, or pregnancy should consult with a Chicago wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to explore their options.

Damages in a Wrongful Death of the Mother Lawsuit

When a mother dies due to the negligence of a physician, hospital, or other healthcare provider, family members may be able to seek damages against those negligent parties. These damages fall into two categories.

Under the first category, the family may collect damages experienced by the mother from the time of the negligent acts to the time of her death. For example, from the error that occurred during the C-section to the time of her passing. Even if the death occurred weeks later (such as from an infection or other complication), the timeframe between the moment when the error occurred and her death would fall under this category.

Within this category, there are damages like:

  • Medical expenses
  • Mental suffering
  • Emotional suffering
  • Pain
  • Lost wages of the mother

The second set of damages are those that the family members lost after the death of their loved one. This specific category is meant to compensate the loved ones of the victim for their loss. The damages in this category will depend on the circumstances of the case and the role the mother played. For example, a single mother with multiple children depending on her would obviously have a higher award than a stay-at-home mother with one child.

In general, the second category will cover wages that the deceased would have earned in her lifetime and contributed to the family. In some cases, a spouse may file a claim for loss of consortium. This usually applies in a death of the mother case, because the mother has left a spouse and young children behind.

Not all family members can file a claim or collect damages in a wrongful death of the mother case. Instead, the courts limit those that can file for compensation. Typical plaintiffs in a wrongful death of the mother case include:

  • Surviving Spouse – The surviving spouse is typically the one to file the claim, and they may include a loss of companionship request in that claim.
  • Minor Children – Minor children, especially those who relied heavily on the mother, can claim the loss of benefits they would have received from having their mother around.

Who Could be Held Accountable?

There are typically multiple parties held accountable in a wrongful death of the mother case. For example, a physician may have caused the error, but that physician is an employee of the hospital. Therefore, vicarious liability may apply. In this instance, the family could hold the hospital and physician liable for damages.

It is best that victims speak with an attorney to assess potential defendants in their claim. An attorney may decide that one defendant is better in terms of compensation amount than the other. A physician will also examine the case to determine all potential defendants that may be listed to ensure that loved ones receive maximum compensation.

Did You Lose a Loved One During Pregnancy or Childbirth? Contact Malman Law Now

If you lost a loved one during her pregnancy or childbirth due to a preventable medical error, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim. Speak with the Chicago attorneys at Malman Law today to discuss your concerns over a free consultation. We can be reached by phone 24 hours per day, or you can contact an attorney through our online contact form.

Our team is here to meet with you during your time of crisis. We are flexible and available and will work as your family’s advocate so you can focus on coping while we hold those responsible accountable for their actions.

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