What Are the Effects of a Car Accident During Pregnancy?

Preparing to bring your baby son or daughter into the world is a joyous time for any new parent.  But when a pregnant mother is injured in a car accident in Oklahoma City, the effects on the developing fetus can be debilitating or, sadly, even fatal.   

Common and Serious Pregnancy Complications Linked to Car Accidents

Over the past few decades, several peer-reviewed medical studies have sought to examine the consequences of automotive accidents for pregnancy, birth, and fetal development.  One recent example, published in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sampled data from hundreds of thousands of women to analyze the nature and frequency of negative pregnancy outcomes associated with car accidents.

The study found that after just one car accident, pregnant drivers had “slightly elevated rates of” three serious pregnancy complications:

  • Placental Abruption – According to the American Pregnancy Association, this condition results in fetal death about 15% of the time.  It occurs when the placenta completely detaches from the uterus.  As a result, the fetus does not receive sufficient nutrition or oxygen.  If the baby survives, he or she might be born underweight and suffer extensive damage to the brain, which can cause learning and developmental disabilities throughout life.  Placental abruption can also cause fatal hemorrhaging in the mother.
    • The study found 175 cases of placental abruption after a single crash, with another 11 after a second crash (186 total).  The placental abruption rate was 5 per 100,000 pregnancy days with no crash, 6.7 per 100,000 with one crash, and 16.7 per 100,000 with a second crash.
  • Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM) – When a pregnant woman’s “water breaks,” it is actually a rupture of a membrane called the amniotic sac.  If this rupture occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy, it is considered premature.  PROM is the leading cause of preterm delivery, and also increases the risk of fetal death.
    • A total of 574 PROM incidents occurred after a first crash, with another 21 occurring after a second crash (595 total).  The PROM rate was 16.9 per 100,000 pregnancy days with no crash, 22.1 per 100,000 with one crash, and 31.8 per 100,000 with a second crash.
  • Preterm Birth – A preterm birth is any birth before the 37th week of pregnancy.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Preterm birth is the greatest contributor to infant death… [and] is also a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children,” including respiratory problems, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and problems with hearing and/or vision.
    • Preterm birth was the most common complication observed by the study.  A total of 2,692 preterm births occurred after a first crash, with another 86 occurring after a second crash (2,778 total).  The preterm birth rate was 97.8 per 100,000 pregnancy days with no crash, 121.6 per 100,000 with one crash, and 157.5 per 100,000 with a second crash.

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Wrongful Death: When Stillbirth and Fetal Loss is Caused by a Crash or Collision

In addition to increasing the risk of PROM, placental abruption, and preterm birth, car crashes were also found by the Preventive Medicine study to create an increased risk of stillbirth, especially:

  • Following second (and subsequent) crashes.
  • Among women who were not wearing their seatbelt when the crash occurred, and/or who were traveling in cars without airbags.

The statistical risk of stillbirth is very slim – “Less than 1% of pregnancies resulted in this outcome,” as the study noted – but cannot be ruled out entirely.  Among the study population, a first crash resulted in stillbirth in 128 cases, with another 14 occurring after a second crash.  The stillbirth rate was 4.7 per 100,000 pregnancy days with no crash, 4.9 per 100,000 with one crash, and 21.2 per 100,000 – more than four times greater – with a second crash.

As the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted in one NHTSA report, “Firm statistics on fetal loss resulting from automotive trauma are not available because fetal death certificates do not record recent maternal involvement in crashes as a potential cause of death.”  However, in the same report the NHTSA also pointed out that “based on the frequencies of pregnancies and crash involvement of the general population, it has been estimated that between 1,500 and 5,000 fetal losses occur each year in the United States as a result of maternal involvement in automotive crashes.”

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A 2004 study published in American Family Physician also pointed to car accidents as a major cause of fetal death in the United States, based on the following data:

“Motor vehicle crashes, domestic violence, and falls are the most common causes of blunt trauma in pregnancy.  The rate of fetal mortality after maternal blunt trauma is 3.4% to 38%, mostly from placental abruption, maternal shock, and maternal death.”

The Oklahoma Car Accident Lawyers of Hasbrook & Hasbrook Have The Knowledge to Help Your Case

If you suffered a pregnancy complication or lost a child due to a car accident, we hope you will accept our deepest condolences.  Whenever you feel ready to start examining your family’s legal options against the driver who hit you, an compassionate and experienced Oklahoma City car accident attorney will stand by your side to fight for closure, compensation, and accountability.  Call the wrongful death attorneys of Hasbrook & Hasbrook at (405) 698-3040 to arrange for a completely confidential legal consultation at no cost.