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What Are Doulas and Can They Be Held Medically Liable?

Published on March 7, 2023

Doulas have a long history in the childbirth experience, dating as far back in the human record as we can peer, with the word “doula” stemming from the ancient Greek word for handmaiden. Women offering aid, wisdom, and comfort to another woman during labor and delivery can be a critical means of physical and emotional support.

Doulas are not professionals and Arizona and other states do not place state or federal requirements on this practice. Though a doula is NOT a medical provider, there are specific circumstances under which a doula may be liable under a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What Are Doulas and Can They Be Held Medically Liable?

What is a Doula?

While women have been supporting each other through childbirth since human history began, Doulas, as we know them today, became recognized in the 1960s, as modern times led many women away from closeness with their mothers and grandmothers who historically filled the role of emotional support-giver during childbirth.

Today’s doulas undergo a training program and certification before going on to provide a pregnant and laboring woman with information and emotional support during the last trimester of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. During labor, a doula helps to reassure the laboring mother by providing information about the process and facilitating communication between the mother and the medical staff as well as providing encouragement and information to the expectant father. In some cases, a doula may go on to provide information, support, and assistance with newborn care after parents bring a newborn home.

Under What Circumstances Can a Doula be Held Liable?

Doulas are not professional clinicians, but a doula may be liable for a medical malpractice claim if she performs outside of the limits of her supportive role and causes an injury. The parents must have evidence showing that a doula performed outside of the limits of her role. Some common causes of medical liability lawsuits against doulas include:

  • Discouraging necessary medical intervention
  • Making medical decisions on behalf of a patient that results in harm or death
  • Offering a holistic medication that causes an injury to the mother or infant
  • Interfering with medical professionals providing necessary care
  • Giving medical advice that results in an injury
  • Handling a baby in a manner that causes injury

If a doula’s actions exceeded the limits of her duty, she may be held liable if any harm results to the infant or the mother since she did not fulfill a doula’s purpose, which is to supply emotional support, encouragement, and information and not provide medical advise or medical care.

Proving Liability for Doula Negligence

As with other liability claims, proving a doula liable for an injury requires showing the following:

  • That a doula/patient relationship existed
  • The doula had a duty of care to the patient
  • The doula breached her duty by committing a negligent or wrongful action
  • That an injury directly resulted from the negligence
  • The patient suffered damages from the injury

For a successful claim, a birthing mother would have to have clear evidence that the doula’s action or inaction directly caused the harm and that the harm led to economic and non-economic damages.

What Damages Can I Recover From a Malpractice Case Against a Doula?

Most doulas carry malpractice insurance. A successful malpractice claim against a doula can help you gain compensation for the following:

  • Medical expenses related to the injury
  • Future medical expenses for serious injuries that require ongoing treatment or extended medical care
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma if the injury resulted from egregious wrongdoing

A Phoenix medical malpractice attorney can help you understand your rights and determine if you have a case for medical malpractice against a doula.

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