Pregnancy & Car Accidents

Car accidents occur all too frequently. In the U.S., a car accident occurs roughly every five seconds. Many of these accidents are fender benders that result in no injuries. But about 3 million people are injured in car accidents every year.

Pregnancy can contribute to the risk of injury during a car accident. A study in 2014 found that women are 42% more likely to be involved in a car accident during their second trimester of pregnancy compared to times in their lives when they are not pregnant. These accidents frequently result in injuries to both the mother and the unborn child.

Here is some information about the relationship between pregnancy and car accidents, including the legal theories that can support compensation for injuries to the mother, father, and unborn child.

Common Pregnancy Injuries From Car Accidents

Car accidents involve an incredible amount of energy. At least some portion of this energy transfers to the car’s occupants, which can cause broken bones and torn soft tissue. Vehicle accidents can also cause emotional trauma that may require years of therapy to treat.

Injuries To the Mother

Whether a mother is the driver or the passenger, a car accident can cause enormous physical damage. A seat belt or airbag can impact a pregnant woman’s abdomen, and her increased weight may result in more severe injuries than might otherwise be present.

Some common crash injuries relating to pregnancy that a mother might suffer include:

  • Premature Birth: A birth that occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy is considered a pre-term or premature birth. Premature birth may or may not result in physical injuries to the mother in addition to the injuries that caused the premature birth. But premature birth may also result in emotional trauma to the mother, particularly if the baby dies.
  • Placental Abruption:  A baby rests inside the placenta during pregnancy. Physical trauma can cause the placenta to tear away from the wall of the uterus. A detached placenta can deprive the fetus of blood and nutrients and cause the mother to bleed severely.
  • Uterine Rupture: In the third trimester of pregnancy, the uterus extends above the pelvis and is stretched by the maturing fetus. Although rare, trauma can cause the uterus to rupture at this time. A ruptured uterus can cause severe bleeding and can kill both the mother and baby.
  • Miscarriage: Trauma can lead to miscarriage for many reasons. Disruption of the uterus or placenta is a common reason, but blood loss or even a severe blow can cause the fetus to go into distress.

This list does not include all of the other injuries that can occur in an accident, like back injuries, that do not directly affect the fetus but can nonetheless make the pregnancy more difficult.

Injuries To the Fetus

A fetus is protected inside its mother’s abdomen by amniotic fluid. This creates a cushion around the baby that can protect it from many kinds of trauma. However, a severe crash or severe injury to the mother can harm the fetus.

Some common injuries a fetus might suffer include:

  • Brain Problems: A fetus deprived of blood can develop brain injuries. These brain injuries can be severe and lifelong. For example, a child can have developmental or learning disabilities due to brain injuries experienced prior to birth.
  • Premature Birth Complications: A premature baby has underdeveloped organs and can suffer lifelong problems including lung, heart, and eye problems, when these systems are compromised.
  • Death: Severe trauma to the heart, brain, or spinal cord of a fetus can kill it before it can be delivered.

Even after delivery, premature babies have underdeveloped immune systems, which can make them more susceptible to fatal bacterial or viral infections.

Injuries To the Father

While it may seem counterintuitive, Florida does allow fathers to recover compensation for pregnancy-related injuries. These injuries are primarily emotional and include:

  • Emotional Distress: A father can experience suffering due to the death or injury of the mother, child, or both, even if the father was not present at the accident.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Trauma-induced anxiety can result from being in an accident and seeing a mother or child injured. This is true even if the mother and child have minor injuries or recover from their injuries.

Fathers can play a unique role in the lives of the mother and unborn child. Seeing them injured or experiencing their loss can cause profound effects.

The rules for recovering compensation vary depending on whether the father, mother, or child has suffered the injury. Moreover, the compensation available and who can benefit from financial recovery will differ based on whether the child is born alive or is stillborn.

Born Alive Doctrine

Florida’s born alive doctrine allows a child to sue for injuries sustained as a fetus if the child is born alive. So if a fetus experienced a brain injury and was born alive, Florida allows the child to sue the at-fault driver for the brain injury.

However, if a fetus experiences a brain injury and is stillborn, Florida does not allow a lawsuit in the name of the child. Rather, the claim must be filed in the name of the mother and is limited to the injuries suffered by the mother, including the miscarriage and the pain, suffering, and emotional distress caused by the loss of the fetus.

This doctrine indirectly applies to wrongful death claims, too. In Florida, a parent cannot sue for wrongful death if a child is stillborn because of a car accident. Again, the parents are limited to suing for their injuries, which can include the personal injury of the miscarriage.

Impact Rule

According to the impact doctrine, a person must suffer a physical injury in an accident to claim emotional distress damages. Under this rule, a court might dismiss a case where a father claims emotional distress resulting from a car crash that killed his wife and unborn child if the father was not in the car with them.

However, this rule is applied more as a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule. This makes the application of the rule unpredictable. Some of the factors that courts appear to consider include the cause of death and the age of the fetus.

Pregnancy Injuries and Car Accidents

After a car accident, you should always seek medical attention. When pregnant, medical attention is even more critical. Even minor accidents can result in injuries to a mother and her fetus. Seeking medical attention could prevent a car accident from turning tragic.