The fact that a Washington midwife is facing malpractice lawsuits is not as troubling as the fact that complaints span three decades. Having provided care since her graduation from Seattle Midwifery School, the midwife, Laura Hamilton, has continued to offer care and deliver babies despite a long history of complaints and investigations. In a strikingly appalling example of poor accountability and regulation, this case validates the importance of researching healthcare providers and one’s legal rights when pursuing care.
Origin of Midwife Malpractice Lawsuits and Example Case
While records show that Hamilton delivered more than 4,000 babies during her career, they are less forthcoming with information about her background and professional record. The incidents that spurred further investigation and the pending malpractice lawsuits involved multiple situations including a pregnant mother who lost her child after suffering complications written off as “nothing to worry about”.
In 2014, the mother sought the care of Hamilton who, at the time, was the only midwife offering home births in her area. Just one week shy of her “due date” the mother called Hamilton complaining that she had passed several large blood clots. Hamilton reportedly assured her that the bleeding was normal and told her there was nothing to worry about. After continuing to bleed and experience distress, a family member called a local hospital who instructed them to see Hamilton or come to the Emergency Room.
Deciding to see Hamilton first, the woman continued to bleed after arriving at Hamilton’s home-clinic location. The symptoms were worsening, and by this point, the woman was experiencing abdominal pain and contractions. Hamilton then checked the baby’s heartbeat and declared it was no longer detectable. She told the woman that her baby was simply “gone” and called 911 for her to be transported to the hospital. At the hospital, the woman underwent a Cesarean section (c-section) and delivered a stillborn baby boy. At the time the tragedy occurred, the pregnant woman had no idea that Hamilton was under investigation, or that there were numerous complaints about her conduct.
Since filing a complaint, the woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit making her just one of a string of women suing Hamilton for negligent care. One such woman is Hamilton’s own cousin whose child was delivered by Hamilton in 2014 with a severe brachial plexus injury. That lawsuit claims that Hamilton was aware that the baby was large and that labor was long. Hamilton reportedly attempted various maneuvers to deliver the baby vaginally, and is accused of using “excessive traction” thus pulling and twisting the baby’s head. The baby suffered dysfunction and paralysis of his shoulder and arm, and has a lifetime of ongoing care required.
Complaints Spark Investigation with Malpractice Lawsuits to Follow
Currently, Hamilton is being investigated by the Health Department in three cases that have resulted in lawsuits. She was previously subject to multiple investigations, including one in 1994 where a judge determined that her negligence contributed to the death of a 21-year-old mother. Officials with the state Department of Health are themselves uncertain about why Hamilton is still allowed to practice.
With multiple investigations, malpractice lawsuits piling up, and a track record of negligence, the question must then turn to who is accountable for decades of negligence? In total, Hamilton has been the subject of at least 22 complaints, with all but three of them being serious enough to warrant further investigation. Some of the most startling complaints include:
- Prescribing birth control pills and antibiotics, which was outside the scope of her practice legally as a midwife.
- Failing to have a backup plan in place as legally required in the event of complications or problems requiring transfer to a hospital.
- Lack of monitoring of home deliveries, labeled as being unsafe.
- Representing herself as a physician capable of authorizing prescriptions, etc. (no action was taken against Hamilton for this complaint).
- Poor charting, data, and notes collected for mothers and babies.
- Failing to transport women to the hospital in a timely manner after complications presented.
- Failure to educate and counsel parents on recognizing symptoms of complications or seeking medical attention for their child.
- Breach of confidentiality.
- Failure to follow disciplinary orders.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of this entire story is the fact that Hamilton continues to operate her clinic and offer care to families who likely are not aware of her history. In this particular situation, officials seem to be unclear as to why she is still allowed to practice after so many complaints. This further begs the question of who is responsible for monitoring and responding to complaints against midwives on a wider scope.
Malpractice Lawsuits: Midwives vs. Physicians
Data is limited in terms of how many medical malpractice lawsuits are filed against midwives every year across the U.S. Research does show that 85 percent of all OB-GYNs are sued at least once during their careers. In fact, among specializations, OB-GYNs are the most frequently sued demographic. Of course, that doesn’t always mean they are guilty of negligence or malice.
The practice of midwifery has gained popularity in recent years with the number of home births on the rise. It is incredibly important that expectant parents research their healthcare providers before selecting who they want to deliver their child. Whether midwife or physician, or a combination of the two, it is important to understand their history, education, and limitations. It is also important to ensure that a backup plan is in place in the event that complications arise.
Protect Your Rights
If you have questions about your legal rights after being treated by a midwife or physician, or are interested in exploring options like malpractice lawsuits, contact Brown & Brothers today. Fill out our online form to schedule a free review of your situation.