Despite being among the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, the United States has some of the highest rates of birth and maternal mortality. An article by the Wall Street Journal exposed a massive spike in preventable maternal deaths occurring during and shortly after pregnancy from 2019 to 2021, calling attention to systemic healthcare concerns.
Findings from data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that minority women, specifically Black and Hispanic women, are among the populations most drastically affected by these trends. Medical Malpractice attorney Sarah F. King, a partner at Clifford Law Offices, says this information is concurrent with patterns seen in her maternal mortality and birth injury representation work.
“Sadly, this devastating trend is consistent with my experience litigating and trying maternal death cases. New data shows that 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, yet the number of deaths continues to rise. That is unacceptable. When the preventable death of a mother occurs we must investigate the case and hold those responsible accountable or things will never change. ”
-Sarah F. King, partner at Clifford Law Offices
The article, titled, “U.S. Maternal Mortality Hits Highest Level Since 1965,” reveals that despite medical advances in women’s health, the number of deaths during or after pregnancy rose 40% from 861 in 2020 to 1,205 in 2021. The number of deaths in 2019 was 754, according to the CDC.
With these numbers, the U.S. maternal mortality rate rose to 33 deaths per 100,000 births, reaching an all-time high since 1965 and a significant jump from a rate of 24 deaths per 100,000 births in 2020 and a rate of 20 in 2019. To help place this in perspective, maternal mortality rates in other developed countries come in at about a third of the U.S. rate with France, the U.K., and Canada at eight, 10, and 11 deaths per 100,000 births respectively in 2020.
An article on healthcare for women by The Commonwealth Fund corroborates the data from the CDC adding that “High rates of avoidable deaths often indicate shortcomings in public health and care delivery systems.”
Cases Close to Home
Over the last decade, Sarah King and the team of medical malpractice attorneys at Clifford Law Offices have handled a number of significant maternal mortality cases that were the result of various negligence including improper cesarean section delivery, delayed care, and excessive bleeding from a placental abruption.
Despite the team’s success bringing to justice hospitals, doctors, and facilities responsible for maternal deaths, Sarah knows that as an injury attorney, her role in helping victims of these cases is generally retroactive.
While a number of settlements and verdicts remain confidential due to the nature of the cases, Sarah and Keith A. Hebeisen, partner at Clifford Law Offices, obtained an $8.5 million settlement on behalf of a mother who died after childbirth at Stroger Hospital following the medical team’s failure to recognize and treat signs and symptoms of ongoing bleeding from a placental abruption.
Working on cases like the one mentioned above, Sarah has seen how close to home this issue truly is. She and Keith spoke on public radio to bring attention to the need for proper medical care for women in Illinois, especially expectant mothers, and how the civil justice system can help to investigate what went wrong and discover how to better prevent these types of tragic errors from happening.
“Maternal morbidity in the United States and in the state of Illinois is a problem. The civil justice system is part of the solution. Investigating the cause of death and identifying what went wrong helps to protect moms. The reality is that a majority of these deaths are 100 percent preventable. Hopefully, our work will bring some closure to families and shed further light on systemic failures that are costing mothers’ lives.”
-Sarah F. King
Causes of Preventable Pregnancy Deaths
According to the CDC, cardiovascular conditions such as pulmonary embolisms, uncontrolled bleeding, and hypertension are among the leading causes of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. While some of these instances happen at the hands of medical malpractice or negligence, reports also show that limited access to regular healthcare and quality medical treatment is part of the problem.
Pregnancy requires regular medical treatment and health monitoring, but for many women in the U.S., especially those in marginalized groups or rural areas, these health services are out of reach financially.
At a 2021 news conference Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike shared that each year an average of 75 women in Illinois die within a year of pregnancy, stating, “Reviewing and addressing maternal mortality is important because it’s a key indicator of the well-being our community and can reflect trends overall in the health of women of reproductive age.”
What’s Being Done
The World Health Organization Sustainable Development Goal is to reduce global maternal mortality to less than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030. Global data visualizations show that drastic measures will need to be taken in order to reach that goal.
In Illinois, Sarah King continues to work towards holding negligent medical providers accountable for deadly and preventable errors and sharing the reality of the systemic issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth medical care in the United States.