Our birth injury lawyers handle preeclampsia birth injury cases around the country. Our law firm is based in Maryland but our attorneys are in active litigation in multiple states in preeclampsia birth injury lawsuits. This page discusses how preeclampsia claims work, the key issues, and their trial and settlement compensation payouts.
Preeclampsia (sometimes "pre-eclampsia") is defined as a condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy and in the first six weeks after delivery. High blood pressure is accompanied by increased protein in the urine.
Preeclampsia (or toxemia), is dangerous to both mother and unborn child and requires immediate treatment to prevent it from worsening into eclampsia. The condition is more common than you would think, affecting to some extent as many as 8% of pregnancies.
Preeclampsia is serious. Obstetricians who ignore the warning signs of preeclampsia put both the mother and fetus in peril. Untreated, it can quickly to neurologic complications such as seizures and death.
Preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal death. It also leads to premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under five and has tragically caused many birth injuries that last the child's entire life.
There is no effective treatment for preeclampsia other than the delivery of the child. But there are viable medical malpractice claims for preeclampsia for failure to properly manage the condition.
If your child has suffered an injury from failure to treat or misdiagnosis of preeclampsia, talk to one of our lawyers and get some free legal advice. You can call us at 800-553-8082 or click here to discuss your case confidentially online.An Overview of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia can occur anytime after Week 20 of a woman's pregnancy. If it is diagnosed before Week 32, it is called early-onset and the morbidity risk increases.
Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and high protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can be mild or severe; one in 200 cases progress into eclampsia.
So this is important to keep in mind. Preeclampsia needs to be taken very seriously but most women with this condition ultimately have an uneventful delivery. Knowing this, many doctors do not raise their guard appropriately when preeclampsia is an issue and these are often the cases that lead to birth injuries and medical malpractice lawsuits.Frequency and Types of Preeclampsia
Mild pre-eclampsia is diagnosed if the mother's blood pressure is over 140/90 but under 160/110. Protein in the urine may or may not be accompanied by swelling in the hands, feet, and ankles.
Severe preeclampsia is diagnosed when the mother's blood pressure is over 160/110, there are significant amounts of protein in the urine, and the woman also experiences abdominal pain, decreased growth of the fetus, severe headache, or visual problems.
Increasing blood pressure can eventually lead to seizures, retinal detachment, cerebral hemorrhage, ruptured liver, abruptio placentae (where the placenta detaches from the uterine wall), and death.Preeclampsia Symptoms
Signs visible or detectable symptoms of preeclampsia are swelling, especially in the hands and face, sudden weight gain, blurred vision, nausea, a headache, lower back pain, shoulder pain, and upper abdominal pain.
High blood pressure should be discovered during routine care examinations during the woman's pregnancy. Special urine test strips detect the presence of protein. These tests are usually done at each doctor visit during pregnancy. (Keep in mind some women never suffer any symptoms of preeclampsia, which is why it is so important that blood pressure tests and urine protein tests are done regularly.)Causes and Risk Factors for Preeclampsia
There are several known risk factors for preeclampsia that good doctors need to bear in mind. Those who are at risk include women who are over 40 (and, oddly, under 20), women who have had previous pregnancies with preeclampsia or eclampsia, black women, overweight women, and women who live in the southeastern United States. (Bizarrely, smoking is associated with a decreased risk of preeclampsia although this is probably because it can mask symptoms.)
The causes of preeclampsia or eclampsia are poorly understood. This disorder usually occurs late in pregnancy and is associated with kidney and metabolic abnormalities.
This condition poses the risk of serious complications to pregnant women and their children. It can quickly result in neurologic complications such as seizures and death.
Eclampsia is a condition of seizures and coma as a result of the progression of preeclampsia. Without treatment, preeclampsia will lead to eclampsia which causes brain damage, coma, and even death. Hemorrhage or status epilepticus and can occur before, during or after childbirth. The mechanism of brain injury is related to seizures and/or hemorrhage.
So it goes without saying that doctors and midwives should take preeclampsia very seriously. It is standard practice in prenatal care for medical professionals to monitor an expectant mother for these signs and symptoms, particularly when she has risk factors for this condition.
Even in mild cases, care must be taken that it does not progress, and usually, the woman requires bed rest at the very least. A woman with anything but the mildest of cases should be immediately admitted to the hospital for observation.
Some patients require magnesium sulfate injections to lower the possibility of seizures. If the baby is large enough, and the woman's condition is stable, then labor can be stimulated through the use of drugs or a cesarean section will be performed.
Ultimately, the only resolution to preeclampsia is for the mother to give birth. But you have to balance this against the risks to the child if the birth would be premature. In that case, preeclampsia may be best treated by treating the symptoms with rest and whatever else while you wait until the infant can survive and thrive outside of the womb.
A doctor or midwife who either fails to notice a woman has developed preeclampsia or fails to act promptly to treat the condition may be responsible for any injury or death that results.
The crucial word in that sentence is "may." Every case is different. But there is no question that the doctor may be responsible for the harm done to the child or the mother if this condition was not correctly diagnosed and treated. (The answer to this question is usually found by asking preeclampsia birth injuries lawyers to collect the medical records and investigate.)
In the not so far distant future, it may be malpractice to fail to give a preeclampsia test. There are now serum biomarkers that can predict preterm labor that are particularly effective in predicting preeclampsia.Classic Preeclampsia Malpractice Cases
Many preeclampsia malpractice cases involve:
- Failure to hospitalize or otherwise take all of the necessary steps to control the disease
- Failure to diagnose the treat sepsis
- Failure to see the symptoms of preeclampsia
- Terminating pregnancy too soon or not soon enough
- Failure to give a urine protein test
Here are some example fact patterns that have led to plaintiffs' verdicts in preeclampsia malpractice claims:Example #1
Plaintiff goes to ER 28 weeks pregnant with ambiguous symptoms: cramping, headache, nausea, vomiting, and ear ringing. Her medical records show a history of high blood pressure. After a long wait in the ER, she was seen by an ER doctor who checked her blood pressure, noted it was high, but heard the fetal heartbeat. He diagnosed otitis media and discharged her.
She returned, clearly in distress, that same night and was again sent home with a new diagnosis: a urinary tract infection.
She came back again with blood pressure through the roof: 174/121. There were no fetal heart tones. She delivered a stillborn baby boy.
Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit claiming what you would expect: the preeclampsia should have been caught and treated sooner.
The case settled against one of the doctors, and the jury awarded $650,000 in damages against the other doctor.Example #2
A woman in the 7th month of her pregnancy noticed a rise in blood pressure, weight gain, and edema, all symptoms that could be many things but could also be preeclampsia. They told her to come back in a week. She then presented to the emergency room with headaches. She delivered preterm. The child was thankfully healthy. But the mother died a day later of a brain hemorrhage that everyone agreed at trial was caused by preeclampsia.
Plaintiffs' wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the OB/GYN failed to diagnose and treat preeclampsia. The jury awarded $2.75 million.Appellate Opinion Preeclampsia Malpractice Cases
- Ng-Wagner-Hotchkiss (2018): A $44 million verdict (reduced to the Maryland noneconomic damage cap) affirmed by the court after the parents alleged the doctor failed to properly treat their surrogate mother's preeclampsia. (Note: this is an unreported opinion.)
- Krishnan v. Ramirez (2000): Evidence supported finding that the doctor's failure to admit the mother to the hospital to monitor preeclampsia was the cause of the death of the fetus.
Preeclampsia Settlements and Verdicts
These verdicts and settlements may be helpful to you in understand the average range of these cases when the plaintiff is successful. Keep in mind that these malpractice case results are not necessarily representative of your case.
Why? Because every medical malpractice case is different and past results are no guarantee of a favorable outcome in a future case, even when the facts may seem identical. Juries are different. Sometimes the details of the events can be very different in two cases that are seemingly the same from reading these short summaries.
People are also sometimes looking for the average preeclampsia settlement or verdict in these birth injury cases. But if someone did compute that number, it would be mostly useless because these cases are just so different. You could average these settlements and verdicts but that number would be relatively useless.
The biggest factors that driver settlement compensation payouts for preeclampsia birth injury claims are going to be
- How reliable the negligence case is against the doctor or hospital, and
- How severe the injuries to the child,
- C.M., Pro Ami v. Crouse Hospital, Inc. (New York 2020) $5.4 million: An expectant mother with preeclampsia presented to the hospital. Her medical history comprised chronic hypertension and a prior premature birth. The labor and delivery team encountered a placental abruption. This prompted an emergency C-section. The newborn boy developed cerebral palsy. He experienced seizures, hearing problems, and visual deficits. The boy’s mother alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused his injuries. She claimed they failed to appreciate her medical history, properly monitor a preeclamptic patient, order laboratory tests, and administer hypertension medications. This case settled for $5.4 million.
- W.L, Pro Ami v. St. Clair Hospital (New York 2019) $3.5 million: An expectant, preeclamptic mother presented to the hospital. She experienced headaches and abdominal pain. Earlier in the pregnancy, the woman was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and hypertension. The hospital staff induced labor. Fetal tracings showed a heart rate decline. The hospital staff delayed the C-section. This caused a placental abruption. The newborn boy was delivered via emergency C-section. He suffered hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. The boy developed spastic quadriplegia. He was left with blindness, hearing loss, and dystonia. The boy required lifelong care. His parents alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused permanent injuries. They claimed they failed to appreciate fetal distress signs, appreciate placental abruption signs, and timely perform a C-section. This case settled for $3.5 million.
- Clarke v. Beaver Medical Group (New York 2019) $4.63 million: A 32-year-old preeclamptic woman underwent labor and delivery. Her medical history included hypertension and a prior delivery with preeclampsia. During the delivery, she went into cardiorespiratory arrest. The woman suffered an anoxic brain injury. She was left in a permanent vegetative state. The woman’s husband alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused her permanent injuries. He claimed they failed to appreciate high-risk pregnancy status, order appropriate tests, treat her preeclampsia, and timely induce labor. The defense denied negligence. This case settled for $4.63 million.
- Girgas v. Lower Bucks Hospital (Pennsylvania 2018) $1 million: A 36-year-old preeclamptic woman underwent an emergency C-section. She delivered twins. Following the delivery, she went into respiratory distress, cardiac arrest, and anoxic brain death. She died several days later. The woman’s family alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused her death. They claimed they failed to appreciate her high pregnancy risk status, timely treat severe preeclampsia, recognize pulmonary edema signs, monitor her respiratory responses, and properly perform a lung exam. This case settled for $1 million.
- M.W., Pro Ami v. California Emergency Physicians (California 2017) $1.75 million: A preeclamptic woman was about to undergo an emergency C-section. She suffered a seizure. The hospital staff resuscitated her. They resumed the emergency C-section hours later. Her premature daughter was born with hypoxia. She went into cardiac arrest. The hospital staff resuscitated her. The newborn girl suffered hypophosphatemia, hypoxia, thrombocytopenia, inferior vena cava thrombosis, and metabolic acidosis. She developed ataxic cerebral palsy. The girl was left with developmental delays. Her mother suffered emotional distress and bilateral retina damage. She could no longer bear children. The woman alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused her and her daughter’s injuries. She claimed they failed to prenatally appreciate preeclampsia signs, order proper lab tests, and timely send her to labor and delivery. This case settled for $1,750,000.
- D.D., Pro Ami v. New York City Health & Hospitals Corp. (New York 2017) $750,000: A newborn boy suffered shoulder dystocia during his birth. He developed Erb’s palsy. The boy’s parents alleged that the hospital staff’s negligence caused his injuries. They claimed they failed to diagnose and treat severe preeclampsia, properly induce labor, monitor the baby’s heart rate, and properly manage shoulder dystocia. The defense denied the claims. This case settled for $750,000.
- Trabue v. Atlanta Women's Specialists (Georgia 2017) $45 million: Plaintiff was 38-years, significantly overweight, and had an extensive history of preeclampsia and blood pressure issues. Three days after a C-section delivery, she suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest causing a hypoxic brain injury that left her completely mentally disabled and requiring care and assistance for the rest of her life. She sued the doctors for negligently failing to recognize and manage the risks presented by her preeclampsia and post-delivery blood pressure. Defendants insisted that their pre-delivery labs and testing did not indicate preeclampsia. The jury in Atlanta's Fulton County found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded a staggering $45 million in damages.
- Plaintiff Mother v. Defendant OB/GYN (New York 2017) $975,000: Mid-30s plaintiff experienced serious preeclampsia before and during delivery. After delivery, the headaches and hypertension from the preeclampsia continued. Bbut she was discharged from the hospital anyway. 2 days after her discharge she called the doctors complaining that her headaches were worse but they told her to take pain medication. The next morning she suffered a large hemorrhagic stroke. Plaintiff sued for malpractice claiming that in light of her significant preeclampsia she should not have been discharged. Plaintiff also alleged that when she called about her headaches the doctor should have told her to go to the hospital. Defendants disputed proximate cause and claimed that even if she had been told to go to the hospital, it would not have prevented her stroke. The case settled just before trial for just under policy limits at $975,000.
- OG Pro Ami v. Kaiser Foundation Hosp. (California 2016) $4.5 million: Plaintiff had diabetes and allegedly exhibited signs and symptoms of preeclampsia including headache and blurred vision. Despite these indications of preeclampsia, doctors did not perform an immediate C-section delivery. Instead, they waited another 2 weeks. Plaintiffs claimed that this delay was negligent and resulted in the baby suffering a hypoxic brain injury. The infant was born with spastic cerebral palsy and had significant mental and physical disabilities. The case settled before trial with $2 million of the settlement put into an annuity and $1,296,266 to be placed into a special needs trust.
- Santiago Guzman v. USA (New York 2015) $4.6 million: The plaintiff, a 20-year-old single mother, alleged that defendant failed to recognize signs of preeclampsia, including edema in the legs and rapid weight gain. Despite these symptoms, the defendant sent her home instead of admitting her to the hospital where her blood pressure could have been monitored. By the time the baby was eventually delivered the next week, the mother had severe preeclampsia and her blood pressure reached 210/120 at one point. The baby was born healthy but the mother claimed to suffer permanent physical injuries and could not walk without a mobility aid.
If your child, or the mother, has suffered an injury, call us. We are here to help you with your case and to guide you through this nightmare. Call 800-553-8082 or get a free no-obligation medical misdiagnosis consultation.
Yes. Your OB/GYN has an obligation to diagnose preeclampsia so that they can take proper steps to manage the condition and avoid harm to the baby. If your doctor negligently fails to timely diagnose your preeclampsia and your baby is harmed as a result of that diagnostic failure, you may have a medical malpractice case against that doctor.
Yes. OB/GYNs also have an obligation to diagnose preeclampsia and then take appropriate action to treat and manage the condition so that the baby is not harmed.
Appropriate management of preeclampsia varies depending on the severity and stage of pregnancy. However, it often involves hospitalization or early delivery. If your doctor fails to properly manage your preeclampsia and your baby is harmed as a result, you can sue for medical malpractice.
Yes. Preeclampsia can be a very serious condition that can threaten the health of the baby if not properly diagnosed and effectively managed. If not properly treated, preeclampsia can cause the baby to suffer brain damage or even death.
The problem is that preeclampsia is a very common pregnancy complication. As a result, doctors and nurses have a tend to take preeclampsia less seriously than they should. These are the cases that often end in birth injury lawsuits.
If you are a lawyer handling preeclampsia birth injury cases, you need to get to know the medical literature. These are some of the key medical journal articles:
- Elizabeth Phipps et al. “Preeclampsia: Updates in Pathogenesis Definitions, and Guidelines.” Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology. 2016.
Preeclampsia is very common and is a large contributor to persistently high maternal mortality rates. This article is an overview of the condition that lists risk factors, pathogenesis, and some of the reasons why there is such a high rate of preeclampsia today.
- Liona Poon et al. “Screening and Prevention of Preeclampsia.” Fetal Medicine. 2019.
This article highlights issues with the traditional screening methods for preeclampsia. The authors suggest that medical and obstetric history, in addition to current signs and symptoms, need to be considered to assess a mother’s risk.
- Daniel Rolnik et al. “Aspirin Versus Placebo in Pregnancies at High Risk for Preterm Preeclampsia.” New England Journal of Medicine. 2017.
This study asks whether taking low-dose aspirin during pregnancy is beneficial for the prevention of preterm preeclampsia. The women studied showed a lower incidence of preterm preeclampsia if they took low-dose aspirin as opposed to a placebo pill. This supports recommendations from official bodies that doctors prescribe low-dose aspirin to mothers who have warning signs of preeclampsia. However, aspirin, especially in high doses, is not recommended in normal pregnancies.
- Jean-Ju Sheen et al. “Maternal Age and Preeclampsia Outcomes during Delivery Hospitalizations.” American Journal of Perinatology. 2020.
This is a good study on preeclampsia risk and age. Researchers analyzed hospital data, cognizant that women are now giving birth later in life. Preeclampsia increased in all age groups over the period. Severe sickness from preeclampsia was highest for the older age group (40-54) but also for the 18-24 age group. Teen mothers ages 15-17 were at the highest risk for eclampsia—high blood pressure strokes. So, preeclampsia risk wise, too young and too old add increased risk.
- Anisha Bouter and Johannes Duvekot. “Evaluation of the clinical impact of the revised ISSHP and ACOG definitions on preeclampsia.” Pregnancy Hypertension. 2019.
Organizations like the Society for the Study of Hypertension in Pregnancy (ISSHP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have recommendations on how to diagnose and treat preeclampsia. Both recently revised their recommendations for the condition’s diagnosis. Essentially, this revision provided new evidence on non-proteinuric preeclampsia. Researchers are still unsure what to expect from non-proteinuric preeclampsia mothers. Defense attorneys will try to use this definitional uncertainty to their advantage when defending a medical malpractice claim.