When Can You Sue for Insufficient Prenatal Care?

Under Illinois laws, doctors owe their patients a reasonable duty of care to protect them from health risks, injuries, and death. If your doctor fails to provide a reasonable duty of care because of insufficient prenatal care during pregnancy, labor, or childbirth, you have the legal right to file a lawsuit against your doctor for negligent actions.

Understanding Prenatal Care

Prenatal care refers to a woman’s medical care during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and following childbirth. Women who suspect they may be pregnant should schedule a visit with their doctor to confirm the pregnancy and begin proper prenatal care. Regular prenatal visits to a Chicago obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN), family doctor, midwife, or other prenatal specialist are important for a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Negligence during childbirth is responsible for a variety of health complications, severe injuries, permanent disabilities, and life-threatening conditions among children.

During the first visit to your doctor, you can expect a consultation to discuss your health, your family history, and your pregnancy as it progresses. Your doctor will document pregnancy and address any questions or concerns you may have about nutritional needs for you and the baby, your pregnancy progression, your weight gain, complications that may arise during pregnancy or childbirth, and methods of delivery. During your first visit, your doctor will also perform routine medical tests, including:

  • Physical exam of your breasts, uterus, and pelvic area
  • Physical exam of your heart, lungs, and thyroid
  • Weight check to measure weight gain during pregnancy
  • Weight and height check to calculate your body mass index
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Image tests performed with ultrasound devices

To prevent insufficient prenatal care and pregnancy complications, your doctor will also address possible health concerns related to your medical history, exposure to infections, and lifestyle changes.

Why Is Prenatal Care Important?

Prenatal care during pregnancy is important to protect both the mother and the unborn baby from health complications, infections, diseases, and problems during childbirth. Following a healthy, safe diet, getting regular exercise as advised by your doctor, and avoiding exposure to potentially harmful substances like lead and radiation can reduce the risks of problems during pregnancy and promote fetal health and development.

Controlling existing health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, is essential to prevent serious health complications to mother and baby during pregnancy and childbirth. Addressing the fetus’s and infant’s risk for complications from alcohol use and tobacco smoke is essential to a healthy baby. The effects of alcohol and tobacco smoke during pregnancy have been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, spectrum disorders, poor coordination and memory, and abnormal facial and head features in children.

Healthcare Providers and Prenatal Care in Illinois

In Illinois, doctors and other healthcare providers take a “Hippocratic Oath” which they sign in medical school to protect their patients from harm by providing a reasonable duty of care. This applies to all types of medical care, including prenatal care. If that oath is violated by insufficient prenatal care during pregnancy, labor, or childbirth, the patient has a right to contact a birth injury lawyer who can pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and other guilty parties.

When Can You Sue for Insufficient Prenatal Care?

If prenatal care or lack of prenatal care results in a birth injury to the mother or the baby, you have the legal right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, the hospital, or other healthcare providers who are responsible for the injuries.

A birth injury is defined in medical terms as the damage that occurs when the mother or baby is left untreated for illness and/or harmed due to insufficient prenatal care during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and just after delivery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7 in 1,000 children are born each year with some type of birth injury. Head injuries are the most common type, and if the head injury involves moderate to severe brain injuries, the baby has an increased risk of cerebral palsy, delayed development, and problems with motor skills, speech, and vision.

Standards of Prenatal Care in Illinois

In Illinois, the Office of Women’s Health and Family Services’ Division of Maternal, Child, and Family Health Services implements the Maternal and Child Health Services Title V Block Grant, which is responsible for the health and well-being of all of Illinois’ mothers, infants, children (including those with special healthcare needs) and their families.

In January 2020, the Medical Patient Rights Act was amended by requiring information about rights with regard to pregnancy and childbirth in Illinois. The amendments state the following requirements with regard to pregnancy and childbirth for every woman:

  • The right to receive health care before, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth
  • The right to choose a physician or certified nurse midwife for professional care
  • The right to choose a birth setting for childbirth
  • The right to receive mother and infant care consistent with accepted medical standards
  • The right to accept or refuse treatments
  • The right to access medical records

Typical Prenatal Care Procedures and Check-Ups

To avoid high-risk or dangerous pregnancies, health complications for mother and baby, and birth injuries, prenatal care procedures and regular check-ups by a licensed doctor or medical professional are essential during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and following childbirth.

Through a woman’s pregnancy, screening and diagnostic tests are essential to find and assess potential health problems and injury risks for both mothers and babies.

Screening Tests

Prenatal screening tests can identify whether a baby is more or less likely to have certain birth defects, many of which are genetic disorders. These tests include blood tests, a specific type of ultrasound test, and prenatal cell-free DNA screening. Prenatal screening tests are usually done during the first or second trimester, but these types of tests can’t provide a definitive diagnosis. If the test results indicate an increased risk for a genetic disorder, your doctor or medical provider can discuss the options for a diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis.

Diagnostic Tests

When a screening test indicates a potential problem, or your age, family history, or medical history puts you at increased risk of having a baby with a genetic problem, you may need to consider a more invasive type of prenatal diagnostic test. While screening tests are useful, a diagnostic test is the only way to be certain of a diagnosis. Your doctor can discuss the potential risks associated with specific diagnostic tests.

What Is the Legal Process for Suing for Insufficient Prenatal Care?

Over the past few years, the number of medical malpractice cases in the United States has increased. Medical malpractice pregnancy cases on the rise typically involve health complications and injuries to mothers or babies during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and following childbirth. In the U.S., there are now an average of 14 deaths for every 100,000 live births caused by insufficient prenatal care and misdiagnosis of health problems for mothers and babies during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.

When to Hire a Lawyer

Unfortunately, in Illinois, 2023 has seen a rise in lawsuits connected to incidents of intoxicated doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals while attending to patients. If you’re pregnant and currently under the care of a Chicago obstetrician/gynecologist, you may need to ask, “was your OBGYN drunk while seeing patients?” Although this scenario is difficult to imagine, it can happen and did happen to many unsuspecting pregnant women in the Chicago area over the last 8 years.

Compensation for Birth Injuries

When any type of medical negligence or medical malpractice occurs, victims are entitled to take legal action against the guilty party or parties. In most cases, possible compensation includes both economic damages and non-economic damages, and in some cases punitive damages.

Economic damages, also referred to as tangible damages, economic damages are calculated by their monetary value. Such damages include medical expenses for hospital stays, doctors’ visits and exams, medical treatments, therapy and rehabilitation costs, expenses for prescription medications, and lost wages due to inability to work. Economic damages may also include expenses for home health care and necessary medical devices such as canes, crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs.

Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages can not be measured by monetary value. Typically, these damages are discretionary and awarded by the court according to similar cases. Non-economic damages may include current and future pain and suffering, emotional distress, long-term suffering, loss of companionship and consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
Illinois Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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