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When does a doctor's duty of care begin for pregnant patients?

An expecting mother’s worst fears may be realized when a doctor informs her of a birth injury or defect. Yet that announcement may be only the beginning of a long ordeal. Trying to determine whether a birth defect resulted from medical negligence may require an extensive investigation.

One of the difficulties in determining whether medical negligence contributed to a birth injury or defect is that advisories are constantly changing. In a recent example, a jury awarded $15 million to a woman who alleged that her daughter’s birth defect was caused by the anti-seizure drug Depakote. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against pregnant women taking drugs containing valproate sodium, which is the main component in Depakote. However, that warning came years too late for the woman in the lawsuit, whose daughter is now 12 years old.

The lawsuit ultimately centered on a defective drug allegation. However, the story reminds us that a doctor’s duty of care begins long before the actual delivery. During a patient’s pregnancy, a doctor should perform routine testing, monitoring and provide advice for healthy practices. 

The particular standard of medical care is typically established based on the doctor’s area of focus and the common medical practices in the locality. If expert testimony establishes that a doctor’s actions fell below that standard, a jury might find the doctor to have been negligent and award compensation for any resulting injuries to a patient. However, litigation strategy must also anticipate contrary theories advanced by the doctor’s defense team. Our firm focuses on medical malpractice litigation and recommends an early start in the investigation of medical negligence claims.

Source: Injury Lawyer News, “Birth Defects Lawsuit Results in $15M Verdict,” Ava Lawson, June 1, 2015

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