Birth Injury Malpractice
While many life-threatening injuries at birth have been minimized thanks to advances in modern medicine, preventable injuries are still far too common.
When a newborn baby suffers a birth injury, the last thing a parent wants to think about is a lawsuit. However, if the birth injury was caused by medical malpractice, parents may be able to file a lawsuit to receive compensation that covers future medical expenses, lost wages, mental anguish, disfigurement, and more.
A lawsuit can not only provide financial support for lifelong treatment but also hold negligent parties accountable for their actions in an effort to prevent the wrongdoing from happening again. Find out more about birth injuries and malpractice lawsuits.
What is Birth Injury Malpractice?
Birth-related medical malpractice is when a doctor or health care professional causes injury to a child or mother during birth due to negligence or a failure to provide care in a reasonable manner. The negligence can be from an error in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare, or health management, according to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys1.
In order for the injury to be considered a result of medical malpractice, three things must be proven:
- a violation of the medical standard of care occurred,
- an injury was caused by the negligence, and
- the injury caused significant financial or emotional damages.
Types of Labor and Delivery Room Injuries
While injuries from medical malpractice can occur at any stage of the birthing process, those that take place in the labor and delivery room are among the most common and preventable types. These are some of the more common injuries to newborns.
Erb’s palsy is one of several types of brachial plexus injuries that can occur in the delivery room. This happens when the brachial plexus nerves in the upper arm are damaged. The severity of the injury varies, but it can result in paralysis of the arm, weakness of the grip, and loss of motor function in the arm. Physical therapy may be able to overcome some of the symptoms of Erb’s palsy but medications and surgery may be necessary.
Whereas Erb’s palsy affects the upper part of the brachial plexus nerves, Klumpke’s palsy affects the lower part. This type of injury mainly affects the hand, wrist, and lower arm of the affected area. Both these types of palsies are usually caused by shoulder dystocia and can occur when a doctor pulls the baby too hard.
Although most cases of cerebral palsy are present at birth, an estimated 10 percent of cases happen because of the negligence of a health care professional. Cerebral palsy is a group of chronic motor disorders that affect roughly 1 in 323 children in the United States. It is caused by damage to the brain while it is still developing2. Head trauma, lack of oxygen, infection, and other factors may cause cerebral palsy.
Cephalohematoma is when there is bleeding between the skull and periosteum. As the blood begins to pool, an unnatural bulge may grow on the newborn’s head. Cephalohematoma is one of the milder brain injuries a newborn can suffer; however, it is often associated with jaundice, anemia, infection, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy.
Caput succedaneum is similar to cephalohematoma, except the collection of fluid occurs between the periosteum and the scalp. Swelling typically goes down by itself. One complication can be jaundice.
One of the most common birth injuries is a bone fracture. The collarbone is most frequently affected as it is vulnerable during deliveries. A fracture can happen when the doctor pulls on the baby’s arm. Fractures can also happen in the baby’s legs and feet during a breech delivery. Fractures typically heal over time, but they can also cause damage to the nerves and result in an inability to move the arm, according to National Children’s Hospital3.
Birthing Room Delivery Advantages and Disadvantages
One issue that complicates the risk of birthing injuries is choosing between a delivery center and a hospital.
According to the American Association of Birth Centers4, a birth center is a health care facility where care is provided in the “midwifery and wellness model.” Birthing centers typically have a staff of certified midwives and nurses as well as lactation consultants. One advantage is the ability to explore natural childbirth options like water birth.
Birthing centers also have connections to nearby hospitals in case there is a medical emergency. According to an article in the journal CrissCross, birthing centers “provide healthcare to low risk pregnant women achieving better health outcomes than a hospital5.”
While birthing centers may be beneficial for mothers with low-risk pregnancies, those with higher risk pregnancies or who experience complications during the birthing process may undergo less-than-ideal care. Without surgeons on hand, there could be a greater risk of injury to the child if the birth becomes complicated.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
When children suffer an injury as a result of the negligence of a health care professional, they deserve to have their medical bills paid and expenses for treatment covered for as long as they need. Even some of the milder birth injuries can cause pain and emotional anguish that cannot be quantified by money.
Parents of children injured during birth have successfully filed lawsuits against doctors and other health care professionals who acted negligently or failed to act in a reasonable manner.
In one case, a federal judge in Florida ruled that a doctor at a federally funded health care clinic was found negligent after refusing to order a C-section, ultimately causing the child to be born with brain damage. The federal government was forced for pay nearly $34 million to the child6.
In another lawsuit in 2017, a couple was awarded $14.5 million after a jury found an obstetrician provided negligent care that resulted in cerebral palsy and brain damage7.
Those who believe their child’s injury was caused by the negligence of a medical professional during the labor and delivery process should contact an attorney immediately.