A birth injury is a physical injury experienced during childbirth and can affect the baby and the mother. These injuries can occur before, during, or directly after childbirth. Medical errors can cause permanent damage. Thus medical practitioners such as doctors and nurses have to follow the appropriate standard of care before, during, and after labor and delivery. Although some birth injuries occur from natural childbirth complications, others occur because of medical negligence. If a person believes that they or their child have suffered a birth injury due to medical malpractice, it is important to contact an attorney to see if a lawsuit is in order. If handled appropriately, a lawsuit can result in an award of monies that will be necessary to care for the person who has been injured. In the case of a baby with brain damage or other serious injuries, the cost of caring for the child can be in the millions of dollars over the child’s lifetime. Doctors and hospitals carry medical malpractice insurance to cover these kinds of situations.
Types of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries can occur to the baby as well as the mother giving birth. Birth injuries to mothers fall into two main categories:
- Injuries to the perineal/vaginal area, which include tears and nerve damage to the perineal area of the female body.
- Injuries to the pelvic floor, which refers to tears and overstretching, sometimes permanent, to the muscles that hold the uterus, bowels, and bladder in place.
There are a number of birth injuries that can occur to babies. Though not a comprehensive list, some examples include:
- Extracranial head injuries are the most common injuries and refer to injuries to the head. Some examples include scalp abrasions, cephalohematoma, and subgaleal hemorrhaging.
- Intracranial head injuries refer to hemorrhaging in or around the brain, which can be quite serious and cause seizures.
- Brachial plexus injury; Erb’s palsy is the most common form. Shoulder dystocia is the strongest identified risk factor, where the baby’s shoulder is caught behind the mother’s pubic bone, and traction during delivery results in injury to the brachial plexus.
- Spinal cord injuries are uncommon but can be extremely serious because they are often permanent and can result in paralysis.
- Perinatal asphyxia is when there is a decrease in the blood flow to the baby’s tissues, which in more severe cases can lead to developmental issues and even cerebral palsy, which is a permanent injury that has no cure.
How Birth Injuries Can Happen
Birth injuries can occur due to natural complications during childbirth. The Cerebral Palsy Guide states that delayed birth, where labor lasts over 18 hours, is one of the most common causes of birth injuries. During a long labor a baby may have had a decrease in oxygen or no oxygen. This can cause a condition known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), also known as asphyxia. When a baby is deprived of oxygen, brain cells will decay and die. Furthermore, heavier infants weighing over 8.13 pounds are at a higher risk of difficult delivery, and so are infants born in abnormal positions. Many cases of birth injury are an unfortunate result of known complications that may arise during childbirth. Other times, however, birth injuries are the result of medical malpractice.
How Failing to Monitor Baby and Mother Can Lead to Injury
Doctors and nurses are trained to deliver babies and to deal with complications that may arise during labor and delivery. Sometimes, they fail to follow established practices, and as a result, a birth injury can occur. When this happens, doctors open themselves up to a possible medical malpractice lawsuit. Some examples of errors that can be made during labor and delivery are:
Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring Errors
Fetal heart rate monitoring is when the doctor monitors the fetus’s heart rate with special equipment during labor and delivery. If the fetal heart rate is too fast, too slow, or irregular, the doctor has to identify and treat the underlying issue. If the doctor fails to recognize irregularities or neglects to treat them, the baby may develop permanent injuries like cerebral palsy.
C-sections may be necessary to deliver a baby when traditional labor and delivery experiences complications. Sometimes, a doctor may fail to recognize the need to perform a C-section. Had a C-section been done, there likely would have been a better outcome. Other times, a doctor may fail to properly perform the C-section or does not do the necessary follow-up after the operation. As a result, the mother can suffer infections and hemorrhages and the baby can get permanent injuries. One study found that the most common errors were made with regard to anesthetics, blood vessels, and those involving the bladder.
A doctor may use a special instrument such as a vacuum extractor or a forceps to help deliver the baby. If mishandled or misused, the baby can suffer injuries to the head, the face, and the nerves. For example, the inappropriate placement of the forceps can cause subgaleal hemorrhaging, which is a rare but potentially deadly complication in newborns.
Women giving birth may choose to receive epidural anesthesia which numbs the lower part of their body. Medical errors may include providing too much anesthesia, administering the drug too soon, or ignoring signs of fetal distress. Anesthesia errors can lead to paralysis or even death.
Mismanagement of Pitocin
Pitocin is a labor-inducing drug that is dangerous if used improperly. The FDA has issued a warning that Pitocin may have serious or life-threatening risks. Therefore, a lot of caution must be taken by medical care providers when administering the drug. It is suggested that only an experienced healthcare provider be the one to administer it, and that a patient has to be under constant supervision by trained personnel who can deal with potential side effects.
Even though birth injuries are normally considered as occurring during labor or delivery, an injury claim can also be viable if the baby is harmed by the doctor’s prenatal care. For example, if a doctor or a pharmacist prescribed a drug that injured the baby, or if a certain vitamin or medicine should have been prescribed but was not, it’s possible to file a birth injury malpractice claim even though it occurred outside of the childbirth process.
Signs That a Birth Injury Occurred
Though some symptoms can present themselves soon after childbirth, others may not appear until about a year or two after birth. Birth injuries can be identified by the symptoms that a baby may display. Some examples include:
- Low appetite
- Skin discoloration
- Weakness or paralysis in the arm or hand
- Slow heart rate
Examples of symptoms that take time to develop include the following:
- Delays in speech development
- Intellectual disabilities
- Difficulties walking or crawling
- Vision, hearing, and/or coordination problems
The Cost of Birth Injuries
The cost of birth injuries varies depending on the injury. The Cerebral Palsy Guide states that the cost of caring for a child with cerebral palsy can exceed $50,000 per year. The ultimate cost of treating the injury will play a critical role in assessing how much in damages can be claimed in the lawsuit. According to Forbes, the average award for a birth injury ranges from $400,000 to $500,000, but it also notes that some cases settle for millions of dollars. Permanently disabling conditions, like cerebral palsy, may warrant much higher damages. An injured person can claim economic, non-economic, and sometimes even punitive damages. Examples of these include:
- Cost of surgery, therapies, and medications necessary to treat injury
- Future costs associated with the treatment
- Home alterations, equipment, and transport necessary for comfort and care
- Lost future earning capacity of the child as a result of a more permanent injury
- Lost earnings by the parent if they have to leave work to care for the child
- The mother and/or child’s pain and suffering
- Parent’s suffering and mental distress
- These are meant to punish the harming party and can be very high. They are typically only imposed in the case of a clear disregard for appropriate standards of care in a child birth setting.
Life Care Plan
A life care plan can play an important role in determining the settlement amount in a particular case. It is a plan that is prepared by medical experts along with an attorney to determine the total expected costs of caring for the child. Relevant factors that are considered include medical treatments like surgery, medication, therapy, schooling, transport, and home alterations for accessibility like wheelchair ramps and lifts.
What to Do if You Think a Birth Injury Has Occurred
A birth injury can be a traumatizing experience and, in some circumstances, will change the trajectory of your life, as well as your child’s. Besides the mental and physical toll of a birth injury for parent and child, it may impose extreme costs on a family. If the birth injury is the result of a possible medical malpractice, then it is important to consult an attorney as soon as possible to determine if there is a viable claim. A successful lawsuit will not fix everything, but it will go a long way towards helping a family care for their child, both short- and long-term. When looking for an attorney, you want someone with experience in these types of cases who understands what the family is going through and will work with you every step of the way. At Rosenblum Law, we’ve been handling medical malpractice claims for over 50 years. We work with medical experts to help support our clients’ claims, and are experienced negotiators when it comes to going up against insurance companies. We understand the stress that your family may be going through, and will ensure that you get compensated for the harms that medical malpractice has caused you. Our firm is here to help you make sense of your options and protect your rights as a patient. Contact us today for an initial consultation.
It is standard for medical malpractice lawyers to charge a contingency fee. What this means is that there are no up-front fees, and consultation is free of charge. If there is a settlement or a jury verdict, then the attorney will take a percentage of the fee. The laws vary from state to state, but in some states there are limits on how much of a percentage attorneys can take on a contingency basis.
It can be quite complicated figuring out exactly who you can sue. Your attorney will work with you to identify all parties that may be held responsible. Examples of people that may be sued include:
· Physician assistants (PAs)
Yes, though it varies from state to state. A statute of limitations imposes a limit on how long after the injury a person can sue. Therefore, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible if you suspect that medical malpractice has occurred. The sooner you contact the attorney, the sooner he can review if you have a viable claim and begin the lawsuit on your behalf.