Botched Water Birth Results in Biggest Malpractice Settlement in 10 Years

Most water births are successful, but sadly, this one was not.

Woman Delivers Baby Via Water Birth ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock
According to a recent study, most water births are successful. But for one Oregon couple, whose water birth was botched by midwives, a settlement of $13 million is a small consolation for the life-long difficulties their son now has to live with. This sizable settlement marks the largest in 10 years for a hospital birth malpractice case, according to

The family's lawyer Rich Rogers says in 2011, Amy Benton was told by midwives at the Legacy Emanuel Medical Center she was an ideal candidate for giving birth in the water. "And they actually told her that it's just as safe and even more safe," he says. But the lawsuit claims Benton was not an ideal candidate given that Luca's fetal heart rate was abnormal upon her admission into the hospital.

Still, they proceeded with her planned water birth, and because she was in the tub, midwives did not monitor the baby's fetal heart rate. The suit alleges that if they had, they would have realized there was a problem, and given Benton an emergency c-section. Instead, Luca was delivered vaginally, but as Rogers says, it was too late. Baby Luca was deprived of oxygen for 15 minutes.

The suit also claimed the Benton and her husband Matthew Marino were told doctors would be consulted during the delivery, but in fact, they were not.

Four years later, Luca is left unable to walk or talk, having been diagnosed with birth-induced cerebral palsy. Rogers explains his abilities further, saying "He makes cooing sounds. He smiles brightly. He loves attention. If you walk into the room and you say 'Hey, Luca!' He smiles."

The Marino's initial lawsuit sought $36 million, and cited a 2014 joint statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on the topic of water birth safety.

In that statement, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) says being immersed in water during early labor can be beneficial for women with regards to decreased pain from contractions. However, the organization is quick to note no benefits have yet been found to delivering a baby in the water, and that the practice can be risky.

That being said, or course water birth is increasingly popular in the U.S., and women who have chosen one would tell you there are many benefits to the experience. If you plan to have a water birth, it's important to follow these safety tips:

  • Only consider a water birth for an uncomplicated pregnancy, that is not considered high-risk.
  • Deliver your baby in the presence of a trained medical professional, or midwife.
  • Make sure the tub is clean, and well-maintained.
  • Allow for the monitoring of you and your baby the entire time.
  • Have a plan for what to do if a complication arises during your birth, and you must be moved to a bed, or a medical facility in the case of a home birth.

More: How Safe is a Water Birth, Really?