Birth injuries happen when a member of a labor or delivery team fails to provide care according to accepted industry standards, resulting in injury or death to mother or child. Birth injuries can have lifelong consequences, such as the permanent condition, cerebral palsy.
Common Causes of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries don’t always stem from negligence. Labor and delivery are prone to complications, with no two mothers having the same experience. Yet all medical care providers involved in the birth should be prepared to handle foreseeable issues with the health and safety of mother and child in mind. A birth injury can cause a malpractice lawsuit when the care provider fails to fulfill his or her duties, resulting in mistakes and preventable injuries. Common causes of negligence-related birth injuries are:
• Doctor errors. Negligent physicians and obstetricians are those who fail to uphold the standards required of medical professionals. Doctor errors can be incompetence, failure to prepare for a procedure, failure to monitor the mother and fetal vital signs, failure to order an emergency cesarean section, and misuse of birth-assisting tools. Doctor errors can cause birth injuries such as broken bones in the infant, or lack of oxygen to the brain from failure to monitor oxygen intake.
• Delivery errors. Mistakes, negligence, and carelessness during the delivery of a child can come from doctors, nurses, and any other professional on the scene. There are several examples of delivery errors, from pulling the baby’s arm and causing shoulder dystocia to causing brain injuries from failing to monitor vital signs. Delivery errors can have long-lasting ramifications for the infant.
• Forceps or vacuum trauma. If a physician needs to use birth-assisting tools during delivery to aid the baby through the birth canal, he or she must do so with the utmost care. These tools can help with difficult labors or unusual birth positions, but they can also cause serious injuries. Improper use of forceps can fracture the skull and cause other types of birth trauma. Vacuum extraction could cause bleeding in the skull or brain damage from strong suction. It also increases the risk of shoulders sticking in the birth canal, and injuries such as broken collarbones.
• Physician errors pose not only risks to babies – mothers can also suffer injuries such as tears, hemorrhaging, and psychological trauma. After any birth injury you should consult with an attorney. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine whether one or more parties were negligent during labor and delivery, contributing to you or your child’s injuries.
Types of Birth Injuries
Often, the birth injury can point to the type of negligence that might have occurred to cause the injury. For example, injuries to the brachial plexus (a bundle of nerves in the shoulder) often arise from doctors using improper techniques such as yanking on the baby’s arm while trying to deliver an infant lodged behind the mother’s pelvic bone. A wide range of injuries can occur during and after delivery, but some are more common than others, such as:
Cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most common muscle disorder in children. CP affects around two children every 1,000 live births. Children with CP can have varying levels of disability, affecting motor function and cognitive ability. While the majority of CP cases do not stem from medical malpractice, birth trauma is a possible cause. If a doctor recently diagnosed your child with CP, speak with one of our attorneys about the possibility of medical malpractice.
Brachial plexus. This injury affects a network of nerves in the shoulder that controls movement and sensation in the arm, hand, and fingers. Damage to the brachial plexus can occur when a doctor forcibly pulls or stretches the arm during delivery. Brachial plexus injuries can lead to loss of function in the affected arm and hand, but most heal on their own. More severe injuries may require surgery to restore function.
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a type of brain damage that stems from lack of oxygen to an infant’s brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain is a serious condition that can cause permanent brain damage or death. HIE can sometimes lead to cerebral palsy or other disorders in infants. HIE can occur during preeclampsia, low maternal blood pressure, umbilical cord problems, prolonged labor, unusual fetal position, infections, premature delivery, or infant brain trauma. Cooling therapy can reverse the effects of HIE sometimes, but in others, the damage might be permanent.
Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that involves high blood pressure in the mother. High blood pressure can damage the mother’s liver and kidneys, typically around the 20th week of pregnancy. If left undiagnosed and untreated, preeclampsia can cause premature birth, placental abruption, lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain, organ damage, and eclampsia. Preeclampsia can be fatal if a doctor fails to notice its signs and symptoms in time to treat the mother for this condition.
Perinatal hypoxia. Perinatal hypoxia is an infant oxygen deficiency before or after birth. Birth complications can cause a baby to stop breathing after birth, leading to oxygen deprivation in the brain. Perinatal hypoxia can occur from traumatic brain injuries during delivery, birth asphyxia (e.g., the umbilical cord wrapping around the infant’s neck and cutting off oxygen), inadequate fetal monitoring, and maternal anemia. Perinatal hypoxia can cause permanent brain damage and related disorders, such as CP.
“Wrongful birth” refers to a physician allowing a baby to come to term when the parents would have chosen elective abortion had they had all the facts about the infant. It is a doctor’s job to screen for infant abnormalities or genetic disorders early enough in pregnancy to allow the mother to elect for abortion if desired. A doctor failing to screen for abnormalities or wrongly deciphering test results can lead to wrongful birth lawsuits, in which parents allege that the doctor failed to properly warn of the risk of giving birth to a child with abnormalities.
In a wrongful birth lawsuit, the claimant states that the defendant negligently prevented her from making an informed decision about whether to terminate the pregnancy. The claimant might allege that, in an act of medical malpractice, a doctor did not give the parents the information they needed about abnormalities in a child that would have changed their decision to carry the baby to term. A claimant can seek recovery for the costs relating to raising a child with a disorder, and emotional distress and physical pain the mother suffered in giving birth to a child with devastating abnormalities.
A wrongful pregnancy lawsuit is one in which parents claim that improperly completed or failed sterilization resulted in a pregnancy that would not have happened had the procedure worked as intended. It is a man and woman’s choice to undergo sterilization procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligation if he or she does not wish to have children. If someone who underwent a sterilization procedure later becomes pregnant or impregnates someone, he or she might sue for wrongful pregnancy.
A parent can bring a civil claim against a doctor, hospital, pharmaceutical company, or medical provider that failed to protect the parent from conceiving after a sterilization procedure. In a successful wrongful pregnancy lawsuit, the claimant might receive compensation for medical expenses relating to sterilization, pregnancy, and delivery; pain and suffering for wrongful pregnancy; and lost wages from the mother having to take a leave of absence.
Compensation for Birth Injuries
A successful birth injury lawsuit could result in payment for your past and future medical expenses, the cost of medical care for your child, the price of lifelong disabilities such as CP, medications and treatments, occupational or physical therapies, live-in care or home accommodations, special needs/education costs, and non-economic damages such as physical pain and emotional suffering. There are no caps, or limits, on the number of damages a claimant can receive in a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit.