Types of Pregnancy Injuries From a Car Accident
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Types of Pregnancy Injuries From a Car Accident

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Posted on September 15, 2023

Car accidents are terrifying and painful, but they’re especially traumatic for pregnant women who face the vulnerable position of carrying a second life to protect as well as their own. Studies show that car accidents are a significant cause of accidental fetal death, with an estimated 1,000 to 5,000 fetal losses per year in the U.S. In other cases, unborn infants may suffer adverse health impacts from car accidents, including premature birth. Many of these health effects lead to lifelong disabilities.

The intense force of a car accident is traumatic. Even traveling at a sedate 30mph causes a 100-pound person to become a 3,000-pound force during a crash. A pregnant woman faces the additional dangers of seatbelts that are not designed for correct positioning under a pregnant abdomen and a growing belly that minimizes the distance between the midsection and the steering column and airbag.

Around 200,000 pregnant women are injured in car accidents every year. Many researchers believe that OBGYNs should routinely discuss with their pregnant patients the risks associated with driving during pregnancy.

Placental Abruption in Pregnant Women During Car Accidents

One of the most common serious pregnancy complications associated with car accident injuries is placental abruption. The placenta is an organ that develops along with an embryo. It attaches to the inner wall of a woman’s uterus and delivers vital oxygen and nutrients to support the growing fetus throughout the pregnancy. During the force and impact of a car accident, the placenta may detach from the uterus, depriving the unborn baby of the oxygen needed to sustain life. Placental abruption occurs in 1-5% of minor crashes and 20-50% of serious car accidents. Research shows 3 causes of placental abruptions in car accidents:

  • High-velocity airbag deployment
  • Compression occurring between the mother’s body and the seatbelt, steering wheel, or dashboard
  • The sheer force of the impact, which may cause the placenta and uterus to move forward at different speeds, resulting in tearing

Placental abruption is more likely to occur in women riding without seatbelts and during the third trimester of pregnancy. Partial or total placental abruption is a serious emergency requiring immediate medical intervention. Some babies survive a placental abruption, but depending on the severity of the abruption, the gestational age of the fetus, and the amount of time it takes for an emergency C-section, babies may not survive or may face long-term adverse health impacts.

Uterine Lacerations and Rupture

Uterine lacerations and ruptures happen less frequently than placental abruptions, occurring in only about 1% of car accident cases and almost exclusively in pregnant women due to the expansion of the uterus beyond the pelvic cavity. Uterine injuries are life-threatening to a fetus and dangerous to the mother as well. Most unborn babies do not survive uterine ruptures unless the mother undergoes an immediate emergency C-section. Uterine ruptures occur most often in unbelted women, but may also occur from the force of the abdomen against the seatbelt.

Direct Injury to the Unborn Baby

In just under 10% of car accidents involving pregnant women, the unborn baby suffers a direct injury. Most direct injuries to a fetus during a car accident occur when the mother sustains a pelvic fracture, causing direct contact between the baby and the mother’s bones during the crash. Other injuries result from impact against the steering wheel, dash, airbag, or seatbelt. Fetal head injuries are the most common result of direct injury, but injury to the baby’s thoracic region and spine may also occur.

Maternal Hypovolemic Shock

Hypovolemic shock occurs when a car accident victim loses a large amount of blood during an accident. When blood volume becomes low, the body reserves oxygenated blood for the most vital organs. This deprives the fetus of the oxygen and nutrients necessary to sustain life and may result in fetal demise if not immediately addressed by emergency care.

Legal Rights After a Car Accident Injury to a Pregnant Woman

When a pregnant woman or her unborn child sustains serious injuries in a car accident in Washington, she has a right to claim compensation based on the state’s comparative negligence insurance laws. Even when partially at fault for the accident, a successful claim with the help of a Kent car accident attorney could recover a portion of the damages. If another driver was completely at fault, pregnant women may claim economic damages, pain and suffering, and grief and anguish.