Can hospitals be held liable for birth injuries from Pitocin or Cytotec?

Yes. Hospitals have a duty to ensure patient safety and prevent foreseeable injuries.  When labor drugs such as Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) and Cytotec (misoprostol) are used improperly, or the baby and mother are not properly monitored during their use, the baby can become extremely oxygen-deprived and develop permanent brain damage, such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Items that can constitute negligence on behalf of a hospital include:

  • Labor induction drugs are given without first confirming that the mother was properly informed about all the risks.
  • There are no detailed protocols (instructions) in place for the drugs’ proper use.
  • Physicians and nurses are not properly trained to recognize and treat excessive uterine activity and fetal heart rate changes that indicate the baby is not tolerating labor (signs of fetal distress).
  • Systems are not set up for in-house pharmacists to identify contraindications for the use of labor induction drugs.  A contraindication is something that makes use of a certain drug dangerous.

Hospitals are Liable if They Fail to Uphold Standards of Care

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a hospital can be held directly liable for negligence if it fails to uphold the proper standard of care owed to the patient, which is to ensure the patient’s safety and well-being.

Under this case, a hospital has a duty to:

  • use reasonable care in the maintenance of safe and adequate facilities and equipment;
  • select and retain only competent physicians;
  • oversee all people who practice medicine within its walls as to patient care; and
  • formulate, adopt, and enforce adequate rules and policies to ensure quality care for patients.

Furthermore, hospitals should be directly and primarily liable for failing to prevent medication errors that lead to preventable injuries, according to experts as well as reports from training programs throughout the U.S.  One New York hospital implemented a standardized  protocol for use of labor induction drugs which included using only low doses of Pitocin and never giving Cytotec to mothers delivering a live baby.

Courts have held that hospitals have a duty to act and protect patients when the likelihood of some type of harm is sufficiently foreseeable that a reasonable hospital can anticipate the risk of injury.  This means that when high alert and off-label drugs are used, hospitals must:

  • Have labor induction drug education programs for the medical team
  • Have protocols in place for use of high-risk and off-label drugs
  • Inform mothers about the risks of Pitocin and Cytotec before they are used
  • Obtain informed consent from the mother

Due to the grave risks associated with Pitocin and Cytotec, education of the medical team must include training and information regarding the following topics:

  • How to recognize excessive uterine activity (uterine tachysystole) and abnormal fetal heart rate patterns
  • How to perform timely and meaningful interventions when excessive uterine contractions and abnormal fetal heart rate patterns occur.
    • Interventions include delivery by emergency C-section, which is the only reliable method of removing a baby from oxygen-depriving conditions.  It is negligence if a hospital gives a mother Pitocin or Cytotec and does not have the capability to quickly deliver the baby by C-section.

Pitocin and Cytotec have long been recognized as dangerous, and researchers have concluded that the well-being of the fetus may be in jeopardy when drug induced uterine tachysystole (hyperstimulation) occurs during labor.  It therefore is very important that the drugs be used conservatively and that hospitals have procedures in place to educate and train the medical team on proper use of these drugs.  In addition, the medical team must be trained on how to properly monitor the mother and baby and perform timely interventions when needed.

Legal Help for Birth Injury from Pitocin and Cytotec Mistakes

birth injury lawyers & cerebral palsy attorneys helping children affected by Pitocin misuseIf your labor was induced using Pitocin and/or Cytotec and your child has been diagnosed with a permanent disability, such as HIE or cerebral palsy, call the birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers. We have been helping children with birth injuries for over three decades. Partners Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh are recognized as two of the best medical malpractice lawyers in America by U.S. News and World Report, which further recognizes ABC Law Centers as one of the best medical malpractice law firms in the nation. The lawyers at ABC Law Centers have won numerous awards for their advocacy of children and are members of the Birth Trauma Litigation Group (BTLG) and the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ). Our firm has many multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements that attest to our success, and no fees are ever paid to our firm until we win your case.

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Related Resources

Video: Pitocin and Birth Asphyxia

Watch a video of birth injury lawyers Jesse Reiter and Rebecca Walsh discussing birth asphyxia and its causes, which include mismanagement of Pitocin during labor and delivery.