Story sponsored by Maliganis Edwards Johnson.
For many couples, child birth is one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. However, it's not without its complications.
According to recent reporting from the ABC, as many as one in three women experience trauma while giving birth. One in ten experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The situation has become so serious that it has prompted the ACT Government to launch an inquiry into maternity services.
A range of submissions suggest professional staff are often under-resourced and overstretched, with dangerous and risky practices prevalent.
Few know more about the topic than Canberra based lawyer Kate Waterford. She is Special Counsel at Maliganis Edwards Johnson and leads a practice in medical negligence claims, with a special interest in birth trauma litigation.
She is also Chair of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association, a not-for-profit organisation which provides support to people who have experienced birth trauma
While Ms Waterford believes more needs to be done on a policy level to improve maternity services across the Territory, she says it is equally important for victims of medical negligence not to suffer in silence.
They should not only reach out to support services for help with any medical and mental health issues stemming from the experience, she says, but also consider seeking early professional legal advice about their rights to compensation.
The Special Counsel believes people who have suffered injury through medical negligence need an advocate capable of investigating the case thoroughly. They need to know whether they're entitled to compensation. Their rights matter.
"Many women who have suffered birth trauma - and sometimes their partners, children or other close family members - have strong claims for compensation against the hospitals or health service providers at fault in their injury," she explained.
"These claims are usually brought against the ACT Government as provider of public health services or against private medical insurance companies," she continued.
"Where liability can be established, claimants can secure damages for their pain and suffering, treatment expenses, care needs, and economic loss."
While child birth is often thought of as a special and positive experience, for some women it can be extremely damaging, leading to physical and sometimes psychological injury.
Ms Waterford is quick to point out however that mothers aren't the only victims of birth trauma. Quite often children and partners can suffer injury as well.
"I have acted on behalf of a number of family members who have experienced trauma too, often because they were in the birthing suite and witnessed something very distressing or traumatic happen in front of them," she explained.
"Sometimes we're acting on behalf of the entire family because the mother, child and partner have all suffered a severe injury during birth," she continued.
"Some birth related injuries can lead to permanent disability with significant medical expenses and other losses."
Ms Waterford has helped many families gain a sense of resolution following trauma. As a result she believes that it is essential for all potential victims of medical negligence to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Statutes of limitation apply (in other words, there can be legal time limits, after which you cannot file a claim).
"Medical negligence claims arise when a health service provider or institution breaches their duty of care to a patient, causing injury," she explained.
"Negligence can occur in any type of health practice, be it emergency care, surgeries of every kind, general practice, allied health services, etc. The results are often devastating for the individual and can sometimes result in lifelong disability," she continued.
"The delayed diagnosis of a serious health condition can cut off critical opportunities for much-needed treatment, while in other cases, inappropriate or inadequate treatment results in new injuries and conditions developing.
"Claims can also arise where doctors fail to advise a patient of their options and the risks involved in relation to a condition they have, depriving them of informed choice in decision-making about their own health. These situations can inflict harm both physiologically and economically.
"Injury of this kind can take an individual completely off the track of the life they had expected to lead. Some people are permanently incapacitated for work, some require other major corrective surgeries or end up with massive medical bills to live with. Under our common law system, people who have suffered injuries of this kind through medical negligence are entitled to compensation, to put them back in the financial situation they otherwise would have been in.
"It's not a crusade. It's about transparency, and about pursuing or understanding your family's rights to compensation. We support the individual to seek compensation for their damage and losses."
If you or a family member have been a victim of medical negligence, including birth trauma, and would like to know more about your legal rights, contact Maliganis Edwards Johnson on 6257 2999 or click here.
Story sponsored by Maliganis Edwards Johnson.
- Kate Waterford is Chair of the Australasian Birth Trauma Association and is Special Counsel at Maliganis Edwards Johnson, leading a practice in medical negligence, with a special interest in birth trauma litigation. She also serves as a non-executive director on the Physiotherapy Board of Australia (a Commonwealth AHPRA board) and was the Vice Chair of Amnesty International Australia. In her spare time, She is working on a PhD in constitutional and human rights law at the ANU.