No matter the circumstances, getting into a car accident is a frightening and sometimes traumatic experience. This fear can multiply tenfold for pregnant women concerned not only for their own health but for the health and well-being of their baby.
Our law firm has represented many mothers-to-be injured in car accidents in Maryland and Washington, D.C. There is typically no severe injury to the mother in most car crashes, and the mother’s injuries rarely meaningfully impact the unborn baby. But there are several more severe injuries pregnant women can suffer from a car crash.
What Are the Four Major Risks to the Fetus from a Car Accident?
A car accident can pose a significant risk to a fetus. The sudden impact and rapid movements in a car accident can cause serious harm to a developing fetus.
- Miscarriage: The force of the impact and sudden movements can cause a woman to miscarry, losing the pregnancy.
- Preterm labor: The stress and trauma of the accident can induce labor, leading to a premature birth.
- Placental abruption: A sudden and severe impact can cause the placenta to separate from the uterus, cutting off the fetus’s supply of oxygen and nutrients.
- Umbilical cord compression: The rapid movements in a car accident can cause the umbilical cord to become compressed, potentially reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus.
- Fetal injury: The force of the impact can cause injury to the fetus, including skull fractures, brain damage, and broken bones.
What Is the Greatest Fear After a Car Accident While Pregnant?
One of the most severe injuries that can occur is placental abruption. This is a condition in which the placenta partially or completely separates from the uterus before the baby is born, which disrupts the baby’s supply of oxygen and nutrients.
According to a study by the American Journal of Epidemiology, placental abruption causes the mortality rate to increase 12-fold. This spike in the mortality rate is due largely to the correlation between placental abruption and early delivery. A car accident is a significant cause of placental abruptions. At least one study has suggested that broadside car accidents cause the greatest risk of placental abruption.
A placental abruption can lead to internal bleeding, hemorrhaging, premature labor, and miscarriage. What’s even more concerning is that sometimes, there aren’t necessarily any noticeable symptoms of placental abruption immediately following the accident. It is potentially fatal to your baby and dangerous to your own health.
The Risk of Uterine Injury
Another injury that pregnant women are more susceptible to during a car crash is uterine injury because a mother’s uterus is enlarged during pregnancy. In the case of uterine rupture, when the uterus tears, the mother and child are at risk of life-threatening complications such as internal bleeding.
Does a Car Accident Increase the Risk of Miscarriage?
Car accidents increase the risk of miscarriage. A woman’s body is built to protect a fetus – the uterus, placenta, amniotic fluids, and the other structures in the mother’s abdominal cavity are designed to protect from damage. In a serious car accident, the mother is subjected to extreme physical trauma that the baby sometimes can’t withstand.
Injuries to the Just the Baby
In addition to a mother’s various injuries during an accident, several potential fetal traumas can occur. Your baby could sustain a head injury from the crash. The baby’s brain jolts forward and back, hitting the front and back of the skull. The injury is like shaken baby syndrome. It can cause severe, sometimes fatal, brain damage or birth defects. To avoid this, wearing a seatbelt is essential because seatbelts reduce trauma to both the mother and the baby. Here are the injuries our car accident lawyers have seen:
- Placental abruption: As we talk about above, a car accident can cause the placenta to detach from the uterine wall prematurely, leading to placental abruption. This condition can result in heavy bleeding, endangering the oxygen and nutrient supply to the fetus.
- Uterine rupture: In severe collisions, the force of impact can cause the uterus to rupture, potentially leading to life-threatening injuries for both the mother and the fetus. Uterine rupture is more common in women with previous uterine surgeries like cesarean sections.
- Direct fetal trauma: The fetus can experience direct trauma from the impact, such as fractures, head injuries, or organ damage. The extent and location of the injuries depend on the forces involved in the accident.
- Preterm labor or premature birth: Car accidents can, in rare cases, trigger premature labor or premature birth, posing various health risks to the fetus, including respiratory distress, developmental challenges, and other complications associated with preterm birth.
- Fetal distress: The stress and trauma of a car accident can result in fetal distress, where the baby’s heart rate may become abnormal. This condition requires immediate medical attention to ensure the well-being of the fetus.
- Developmental issues: In some cases, car accidents can lead to developmental issues in the fetus, mainly if there is a lack of oxygen during the collision. Oxygen deprivation can potentially cause brain damage and developmental delays.
Five Seat Belt Safety Tips During Pregnancy
Many pregnant mothers worry about whether wearing a seat belt could cause harm to their babies in the event of an accident. Experts agree that wearing a seatbelt in the car is the safest option for everyone, including pregnant women. They are the most effective means of saving lives and lowering the risk of injury in the event of an accident. Still, there are several safety tips for pregnant women regarding seatbelts that can further minimize their chances of injury.
- Always wear the seat belt correctly: Pregnant women should wear the lap belt low across the hips, below the belly, and snugly against the thighs. The shoulder belt should be positioned between the breasts and to the side of the belly, crossing over the collarbone. Never place the shoulder belt across or above the belly, as it can risk injury to the unborn child in case of a crash.
- Adjust the seat and steering wheel position: Pregnant women should adjust the seat and steering wheel to maintain a safe and comfortable driving position. Sit with a slight recline, ensuring you can reach the pedals comfortably while keeping a safe distance from the steering wheel. This positioning provides adequate space between the belly and the steering wheel, minimizing the risk of injury in a collision.
- Regularly check and adjust the seat belt: Pregnant women should periodically check and adjust their seat belts to ensure they remain adequately positioned. As the pregnancy progresses and the belly grows, it may be necessary to make adjustments to maintain a secure and comfortable fit.
- Consult a healthcare provider: If you have concerns about seat belt use during pregnancy or any specific medical conditions, talk to your doctor. They can provide personalized guidance based on your health and pregnancy status and, perhaps most importantly, set you at ease.
Here are some other practical thoughts for mothers-to-be:
- The lap and shoulder belt combination is the safest type of seatbelt to use
- Place the lap belt below your belly, so it is low and snug on your hip bones, touching your thighs
- Do not wear your seatbelt above or across your belly
- Wear your shoulder belt so it fits snugly across the center of your shoulders and chest
- Never wear the shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back
- If you are the driver, keep your belly a safe distance from the airbag (breast bone 10 inches from the dashboard or steering wheel)
Do I Need to Seek Medical Attention After a Crash If I’m Pregnant?
It goes without saying that it is essential to seek medical care following an accident to ensure no internal injuries go unnoticed. This is even more so if you are pregnant.
As previously mentioned, these injuries are a worst-case scenario when you’ve been in an accident, and there’s no universal answer to whether to go to the ER or wait to see your primary care physician because the circumstances of each accident are unique. You may have just been in a fender-bender that caused no serious injuries.
But if you are pregnant, it is essential to remember that even if you feel you don’t have any injuries, your unborn baby may have been hurt. At the very least, the doctor can perform a quick checkup on the baby to relieve any anxieties you may have for their wellbeing. You should immediately go to the ER if you show any of these symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
- Physical trauma directly to the abdomen during the crash
If the car accident was minor enough and had no profound impact on your abdomen, it would probably be fine to wait and make an appointment to be seen by your regular physician. Still, in the time it takes to schedule a checkup, you should remain vigilant for later symptoms of injury. Symptoms of trauma to the fetus will include:
- Severe abdominal pain
- Urgent, painful urination
- Excessive vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or loss of consciousness
- Swelling in the mother’s face or fingers
- Chills or fever
- Severe headaches
- A shift in the baby’s movement or placement
Medical Expenses Following Your Accident…
Both you and your child face a significant risk of injury when you are in a severe car accident. As a pregnant woman, you will probably have far more medical expenses than other car accident victims. You will most likely have to go through many hours of fetal monitoring to ensure the baby is uninjured. There will also have to be more medical appointments with an obstetrician or other specialists to check on her baby’s health and safety in the long term.
Additionally, if the baby is born prematurely because of injuries sustained from a car accident, it may require emergency surgery or an extended stay in the ICU, which can be a crippling expense. Due to birth injuries, your baby may need to be seen by various specialists. Over the years, developmental issues stemming from brain injuries require various speech, occupational, and physical therapies.
With so many extra medical appointments on top of the mental and emotional strain caused by an accident, it is essential to be adequately compensated while trying to process the trauma of being in an accident while pregnant. If your child has suffered from birth injuries because of a severe car accident, the at-fault driver could be legally obligated to pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
What Is the Average Settlement for a Car Accident While Pregnant?
Settlement amounts in cases involving pregnant women in car accidents can vary significantly. Several factors come into play when determining the compensation owed to the injured party. These factors include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, potential fetal injuries, liability, and legal representation.
There are no statistics on the average settlement for a car accident while pregnant. You do not care about the average either because it would be a number wildly distorted by severe fetal injury cases that would skew the average.
Sample Settlement and Verdicts Involving Pregnant Women
Below are sample stories involving pregnant women who were injured in car accidents. I have handled many of these cases, and I believe that being pregnant increases the settlement value even if there is no harm done to the baby. Why? Everyone understands that the trauma of a car accident is more significant when you fear for your unborn child, even if you ultimately learn that the child suffered no injuries.
- 2023, Illinois: $7,250,000 Verdict. After a car accident in January 2020, a woman who was 35 weeks pregnant visited a county hospital’s emergency room, expressing concerns that she hadn’t felt her baby move since the incident. The subsequent lawsuit alleged that the hospital staff displayed negligence, especially in their failure to adequately monitor the fetus’s health. When monitoring was eventually resumed, an emergency C-section was performed, but unfortunately, the baby could not be saved. A physician’s testimony included in the lawsuit suggested that had the hospital adhered to the standard of care, the baby might have survived without any neurological harm. The case did not undergo further discussion in the committee. A settlement amount of $6.75 million was agreed upon before trial.
- 2023, Virginia: $266,000 Verdict. The plaintiff who was 18 weeks pregnant at the time and driving her 6-year-old son to school, had her vehicle struck by another driver traveling at 81 mph in a 45 mph zone. A U.S. Magistrate Judge determined that the at-fault driver was liable for willful and wanton negligence due to her reckless speeding and indifference to the potential consequences of her actions. The damages awarded encompassed injuries, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and medical expenses incurred by the victim as a result of the accident.
- 2022, Missouri: $25,000 Settlement. The plaintiff drove through an intersection when she was eight weeks pregnant, and the defendant failed to yield and collided with her vehicle. The impact reportedly caused the plaintiff’s vehicle to flip over. The plaintiff said an ultrasound performed two days later detected no fetal heartbeat and alleged that the collision was the cause. The $25,000 was probably a policy limits settlement.
- 2020, New Jersey: $15,000 Settlement. A newborn male covered by an uninsured motorist (UM) provisions of a policy allegedly suffered the effects of being born prematurely, at 4 lbs., when the vehicle his pregnant mother occupied was struck in an intersection by another vehicle, leading to an early delivery. The lawsuit sought coverage for medical expenses related to the premature delivery.
- 2020, Alabama: $23,613 Settlement. The plaintiff, who was pregnant, was rear-ended by the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that the accident resulted in severe and permanent injuries, including head, back, and neck injuries, and caused her to be placed on high-risk pregnancy protocol and to experience a potential miscarriage.
- 2019, Washington: $3,850,000 Settlement. A 36-year-old pregnant woman and her unborn child died after her fiancé’s vehicle struck a Genie lift that came off a flatbed trailer. Before the collision, the dump truck towing the trailer entered a right-hand curve. This caused the Genie lift to shift, which resulted in the trailer overturning and dumping the Genie lift onto the oncoming lane. The woman and her unborn died on impact. Her fiancé and six-year-old daughter suffered undisclosed catastrophic injuries. The deceased woman’s estate sued the dump truck driver and his employer. They alleged that the truck driver and his son improperly secured the Genie lift. The case settled for $3,850,000, in which the fiancé received half of the settlement while the estate and surviving daughter received the other half.
- 2019, Alabama: $25,000 Settlement. A baby was born via an emergency C-section after an uninsured driver struck his parents’ vehicle. The parents sought UIM benefits from their UIM insurer, GEICO. There was little information regarding the sustained injuries in this case. The case settled for $25,000. This consisted of $1,989 in medical expenses and $23,011 to the parents for the boy’s health, education, and welfare.
- 2019, Virginia: $35,000 Verdict. A 20-year-old pregnant woman suffered premature contractions after being a passenger in a T-boned vehicle. She also suffered soft-tissue neck injuries. The woman was rushed to the emergency room, where the staff administered an injection to stop the contractions. They also placed her on a fetal monitor. She was hospitalized overnight before being discharged to her home. The woman remained bedridden for six weeks. She gave birth to healthy twins at the end of those six weeks. She sued the driver, alleging that the collision caused her early contractions. The Virginia Beach jury awarded her $35,000.
- 2019, Pennsylvania: $3,517 Verdict. A 26-year-old pregnant pedestrian was struck by a vehicle while walking in a parking lot. Despite sustaining a soft-tissue back injury, her pregnancy was undisturbed. She underwent 18 physical therapy sessions, which lasted about three months. The woman claimed that her back pain affected her ability to care for her newborn. She sought damages for past pain and suffering. The Philadelphia jury determined that her damages totaled $3,517.
- 2019, Washington: $125,000 Settlement. A 33-year-old registered nurse was rear-ended as she traveled on I-5. She was eight months pregnant. The woman suffered emotional distress, fearing the state of her unborn child. However, the child was born full-term and with no injuries. The case settled for $125,000. This included $20,643 in medical expenses and $4,101 in lost wages.
- 2018, Texas: $5,752 Verdict. A 30-year-old ultrasound technician was rear-ended as she was stopped at a red light. She was three months pregnant. She suffered emotional distress over her unborn child’s health. The woman underwent two ultrasounds, which showed nothing abnormal. She also saw an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed her with a possible scaphoid fracture. She wore a wrist brace for six weeks and sought no other treatment. The Harris County jury awarded $5752 in damages.
Does the Settlement Value of Car Accident Claim Increase Because the Victim Is Pregnant Even If the Child Is Unharmed?
All things being equal, the settlement value of a case involving a pregnant woman should be higher even when the unborn child is unharmed. Why? There is invariably trauma and stress that comes with the fear that your child may have suffered an injury. I would argue, and almost anyone a parent would agree, that even irrational fear is perfectly normal and expected when you are pregnant.
New 2023 Study on Pregnancy and Car Accidents
Using a population-based nationwide dataset, a new study examined the association between motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) during pregnancy and adverse maternal outcomes. The study found that pregnant women involved in MVCs had significantly higher risks of placental abruption, prolonged uterine contractions, antepartum hemorrhage, and cesarean delivery than controls. Such elevated risks tended to be higher in the MVCs with greater severity.
The study also found that scooter riders had higher odds of various adverse maternal outcomes than car drivers. These findings suggest clinicians should be aware of the increased risks of adverse maternal outcomes associated with car accidents during pregnancy, especially in severe crashes and scooter riders. The study points out that women need to know this, and educational materials should include this information as part of good prenatal care.
Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer
If you’re a pregnant woman involved in a car accident, don’t hesitate to seek legal help. Our experienced car accident lawyers understand the unique challenges that pregnant women face and are here to help. We’ll work tirelessly to help you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages. Call us today at 410-779-4600 to schedule a free consultation and let us help you navigate the legal process.