When parents anticipate the birth of a child, they know it will be hard work but they believe that the results will be worth it - a perfect baby. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Some babies are born with birth defects. About seven out of 1,000 otherwise healthy babies born in the United States are somehow injured during labor and delivery.
Often, due to natural factors like the size and position of the baby, these injuries cannot be avoided. The mere fact that a birth injury occurred does not constitute medical malpractice.
In some situations, however, the injury could have been anticipated and avoided with proper medical care. Failure to follow the correct standard of care coupled with serious harm to an infant or mother can constitute medical malpractice.
A Range of Birth Injury
A birth injury can be very mild. Common injuries include bruising, bloodshot eyes, swelling and even a broken arm or collarbone. In a healthy infant, these injuries heal quickly. Even some injuries that seem severe at birth, like temporary paralysis of the face or arm, often subside on their own in a few days or weeks. When there is no lasting harm, there is no basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Other birth injuries are more severe and long-term. These include cerebral palsy, bleeding in the brain, seizure disorders, injury to the brain cells from a lack of oxygen, Erb’s palsy and Klumpke’s palsy.
Just because a birth injury is severe doesn’t mean that a healthcare provider acted inappropriately. He or she might have done everything that any other healthcare provider in the same situation would have done, but nonetheless could not prevent the injury. The healthcare provider is liable only if he or she acted negligently and made a mistake, and caused lasting harm.
Errors during Childbirth
Significant medical errors during childbirth include failure to anticipate birth complications due to the baby’s large size or a tangled umbilical cord, failure to monitor and respond to signs of fetal distress, failure to order a cesarean section when appropriate, failure to treat for infection, failure to properly medicate, or incompetent use of forceps or a vacuum extractor.
A healthcare provider can also cause harm to a fetus or mother prior to childbirth, during pregnancy, by failure to diagnose a medical condition of the mother (preeclampsia, Rh incompatibility, hypoglycemia, anemia or gestational diabetes), failure to identify birth defects, failure to identify ectopic pregnancies, or failure to diagnose a disease that could be contagious to the fetus.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
The laws governing medical malpractice lawsuits vary by state. A state’s statute of limitations sets a maximum amount of time after an injury occurs that a person can bring legal action against a negligent healthcare provider. In Illinois, for example, families have eight years to take legal action.
Injuries suffered at birth can be severe and life-altering for the child and the parent. When these injuries occur due to negligence on the part of a healthcare provider, compensatory damages can include future and past medical expenses, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, loss of a normal life, and loss of future earnings.
Call a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
The law surrounding childbirth injuries and medical malpractice law are complicated. Plus, the facts of each case and the law in each state are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. It is not legal advice. For more detailed and specific information about your situation, please contact a medical malpractice lawyer.