When an injury occurs during a complicated labor, a mother rarely wants to question her doctor. It’s easier to believe that the doctor and medical team did everything possible to prevent injury to the newborn baby. Unfortunately, it can be nearly impossible for new parents to pay for expensive treatments, therapies, and other costs related to help the child who suffered the injury recover and reach their full potential.
Sometimes medical mistakes are the cause of a birth injury. Doctors and medical staff are rarely if ever bad people, but whether caused by inexperience or inattention, they can inadvertently cause harm to a very delicate patient. Doctors carry medical malpractice insurance for a reason, and in the case of a birth injury, that reason is to make sure the child doesn’t suffer from financial limitations.
So if an infant suffers a birth injury, the parents may be able to file a medical malpractice suit against the parties responsible for the injury during the baby’s delivery. A valid claim requires negligence directly cause the injury in question. A qualified birth injury attorney will have extensive experience in these types of lawsuits and can help determine if medical malpractice was the cause of a child’s injury.
Birth injury lawsuits are complex so it is important that a skilled birth injury lawyer or team of birth injury lawyers to take the case. Realizing that raising a child who has sustained a birth injury can be a financial burden, a suitable lawyer’s main goal is to lessen this financial burden by holding the negligent party accountable in a court of law for their actions and/or inactions. Beyond just the emotional and physical consequences, birth injuries can cause dire financial strain. A family can struggle with the costs of physical therapy, special schools, and other additional care required for the children. Legal recourse is often required to recover compensation for these costs when medical negligence is at fault.
While sometimes unavoidable, birth injuries can be caused by any number of factors, so it is important to consult with a lawyer to be sure of the facts. This includes examining medical records to discover procedures that may have caused the injury such as viewing the results of diagnostic tests, the use of birthing tools, electronic fetal monitoring strips, delivery flow sheets, and any other additional information available about the pregnancy and delivery. Your lawyer will work alongside medical experts to review the pertinent information when determining whether medical negligence resulted in your child’s birth injury. A birth injury lawsuit may be viable if the expert(s) determine that the doctor failed to meet the appropriate standard of care during the delivery of your child.
What Can Cause Birth Injuries
A birth injury is damage sustained during the delivery process and usually but not always occurs during movement through the birth canal. Many injuries do resolve without treatment and actually many newborns have minor injuries during birth.
A fetus may be at risk of injury when the birth canal is too narrow or the baby too large. This sometimes occurs if the mother has diabetes. If the fetus is positioned abnormally in the uterus, an injury can occur during transit through the birth canal. Typically these issues are discovered beforehand through use of improved pre-birth assessments using ultrasounds and a cesarean delivery can be performed to alleviate potential dangers.
Medical negligence resulting in birth injuries can be caused by the following:
- Improper forceps use
- Improper vacuum use
- Delay in ordering caesarian section
- Improper use of Ptocin
- Neglecting to perform certain tests during the pregnancy
- Failure to diagnose or treat an infection
- Failure to diagnose or treat placenta abruption or previa
- Failure to diagnose or treat umbilical entrapment
- Premature rupture of the membranes
- Neglecting to refer patient to specialist
Some Types of Birth Injuries
As previously mentioned, many newborns incur minor injuries during birth. Sometimes, these injuries include broken bones or damaged nerves, but most injuries resolve without treatment. But often, injuries can be much more serious.
Head and Brain Injury
In the majority of births, the head is the first part of the body to enter the birth canal. It experiences tremendous pressure during the delivery. Minor injuries of the head include swelling and bruising which typically resolve over the first few weeks of the child’s life.
One such minor concern is a cephalohematoma. This is the accumulation of blood underneath the periosteum of one of the skull bones. These feel soft and can increase in size after birth, but they usually do not need treatment and disappear in a few weeks or months. Even a skull fracture will usually heal rapidly without treatment. These are rare, and unless they form an indentation in the child’s head, are usually of little concern.
A more serious injury involves bleeding in the brain or an intracranial hemorrhage. When a blood vessel ruptures within the skull, bleeding in the spaces around the brain can occur. It is more common amongst premature infants. Most occurrences of intracranial hemorrhage do not produce symptoms. He bleeding can cause lethargy, poor feedings, and/or seizures.
Most frightening are cases of brain damage directly resulting from medical malpractice. Sadly, doctors and hospital staff are rushed which can lead to poor technique and overall inattention. This behavior can lead to serious injuries to the baby and dramatically alter their future quality of life. Additionally, a family can be burdened with the financial and emotional strain of raising a disabled child.
Brain damage is not always recognizable immediately and a birth injury may not be suspected to be the cause. But after the child is born and begins to develop, some symptoms may start to show including:
- Delayed development of physical abilities
- Delayed development of motor skills
- Hearing problems
- Vision problems
If you notice any of these symptoms, seek medical counsel immediately.
In some deliveries, although rare, nerve injuries can occur. If forceps are used or if the fetus’s head is lying against the mother’s pelvis, pressure on the facial nerve can cause weakness in the muscles in one side of the face. This injury can be seen when the baby cries and one side of the face appears droopy. Usually, no treatment is necessary as this condition resolves itself within a few months.
In the delivery of a large infant, nerves to one of the baby’s arms can be stretched or injured. This results in weakness or even paralysis of the newborn’s hand or arm. Avoid dramatic shoulder movements when allowing the nerves to heal. Although rare, the arm may remain weak after a few weeks in which case surgery may be required to address the issue.
Sometimes, the nerve leading to the diaphragm is damaged and results in paralysis of that side of the diaphragm. This can cause breathing difficulties in the newborn but usually resolves in a few weeks.
In the most extreme cases of nerve injury, the spinal cord may be damaged during delivery. Such an injury can cause paralysis below the spot of the injury. Unfortunately, these injuries are often permanent and result in permanent paralysis.
Bones can be fractured during a strenuous delivery. The most common such injury is a fracture clavicle. Less common are fractures of the upper arm or upper leg bones. These fractures typically heal very rapidly and the child has a full recovery.
Perinatal asphyxia occurs when a newborn has either too little oxygen in the blood or when an inadequate amount of blood slows to the newborn’s tissues. There can be many causes, and often the actual cause is not identified.
Some of the more common causes include:
- Infection to the fetus
- Certain drug exposure before the birth
- A sudden loss of blood
- Umbilical cord pressure or a blood clot in the cord
- Abnormal development of the fetus
- Inadequate placenta function
Many newborn survivors will recover completely, but others can have permanent damage including signs of neurological damage which can range from just mild learning disorders to more serious problems such as cerebral palsy.