Birth injuries are defects and other health problems that are suffered by newborn children. In most cases, they can impair the child's mental, physical, and emotional development, putting them at a distinct disadvantage with their peers for the rest of their lives. In the most severe cases, a birth injury can be fatal or can saddle an innocent child with medical problems that will drastically shorten his or her life.
The medical malpractice lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims of birth injuries in Alabama recover the compensation they need to overcome these huge difficulties.
Two Different Types of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries can happen at two different points during the pregnancy:
- while the fetus is still developing in the womb, or in utero; or
- during labor and the delivery procedure.
In either case, the doctor or surgeon who acted negligently can be held liable for any medical malpractice.
In Utero Birth Injuries
While the less common of the two, birth injuries that happen while the fetus is in utero can be far more severe and lead to even more debilitating injuries than those that happen during delivery.
In utero birth defects are often caused by negligent doctors who either:
- do not check to see if a woman is pregnant before prescribing her potentially harmful medications; or
- fail to note potential genetic risks.
Not completing a genetic test – or misreading the results, if one is done – can leave the parents of an unborn child unable to make an informed health decision until it is too late.
Medical Malpractice in the Delivery Room Can Cause a Birth Injury
Perhaps the most common cause of a birth injury in Alabama is when a doctor, surgeon, or other healthcare professional acts negligently in the delivery room. This can happen in lots of different ways, like:
- Negligently giving the mother epidural anesthesia,
- Not noticing signs of fetal distress,
- Failing to take appropriate action when the delivery gets complicated, or
- Using too much force in an assisted delivery.
In many cases, these negligent acts or omissions can lead to the child suffering serious and potentially life-altering injuries. When that happens, the negligent doctor and their employing hospital should be held accountable and made to pay compensation to the hurt child and their parents.
Birth Injuries Suffered During Labor and Delivery
The birth injuries that newborn babies can suffer during labor and delivery are often far more traumatic than those suffered in utero, and often are the result of a difficult delivery. When doctors do not take proper precautions to avoid difficult births or do not properly respond to medical complications when they arise, their actions or inactions can amount to medical malpractice. The doctors can be held liable for the birth injuries that result from the traumatic birth caused by that malpractice.
One example of a birth injury suffered during delivery was suffered by one of the clients represented by the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian. In that case, there were clear signs of fetal distress during the delivery of a child at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Nevertheless, doctors did not decide to abort the delivery and perform a C-section until two hours had passed. By that time, the newborn had lost his oxygen supply for so long that he was born with Cerebral Palsy, as well as other physical and mental disabilities.
With the help of the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian, the family of the boy sued the hospital and won a Maryland record $55 million medical malpractice verdict.
Defective Medical Devices Can Also Cause a Birth Injury
Sometimes, delivering a baby is an easy and straightforward affair. Other times, though, there are complications and difficulties that force doctors to get involved and assist in the delivery. These are the deliveries that come with the highest chances that the infant suffers a serious birth injury.
To make matters worse, these are the deliveries that often require the use of medical devices. Whenever a medical device is used in a medical procedure like the delivery of a newborn, there is the chance that the device used is somehow defective. If there is something wrong with the tool that the doctor uses to extract the child, it can cause severe damage to the newborn, through no fault of the child, mother, or even the doctor.
In these cases, the maker of the defective device should be held accountable through a products liability lawsuit.
These lawsuits can claim that the fault and responsibility for the child's injuries lie with the device's:
- Design, if the medical device was poorly designed in a way that created unnecessary risk
- Manufacture, if the device was designed correctly, but was made in a way that did not comport with that design and in a way that put people in danger
- Failure to warn, if the device's instructions did not inform doctors of a potential for danger
These issues can affect any of the medical devices that are commonly used by doctors during the delivery process, including:
- Forceps, which are often used to reposition a baby in the birth canal to make the birth easier
- Vacuum extraction devices, which are used to pull the baby out of the birth canal
Even the drugs that are commonly used during the delivery procedure, like the epidural often given to the mother to ease her through the delivery, can be defective and can cause serious complications and birth injuries.
Examples of Birth Injuries
There are a lot of different birth injuries that newborn children can suffer. They range from trivial to very severe and life-threatening as well as from common to extremely rare. Some birth injuries include:
- Skull fractures from poorly-conducted assisted delivery methods
- Spinal cord injuries, including permanent and total paralysis
- Should dystocia from a traumatic birth
- Erb's Palsy
- Oxygen deprivation
Each of these injuries can have lasting repercussions on the child who suffers them. Suffering any of these injuries can lead to severe developmental delays that can put a child behind his or her peers for the rest of their life.
Symptoms of Birth Injuries
When a child is born with a birth injury, they can present a wide variety of symptoms that depend on the nature of their injury. Unfortunately, in many cases, these symptoms may not become apparent for months or even years after the child's birth. Additionally, the symptoms of a birth injury are easily confused with symptoms of another medical condition, making it critical to see a pediatrician that is unaffiliated with the hospital that delivered the baby.
The symptoms of a birth injury that can be seen immediately after the child's birth include:
- Movement problems, like a limb that is limp or always stationary
- Breathing problems
- An inability to eat or swallow
- Constant coughing or wheezing
- Arched back
- Light sensitivity
These symptoms can mean a birth injury has happened, but they can also be caused by other medical issues. A pediatrician can help figure out what happened.
Thankfully, there are some birth injuries that have symptoms that are very clear, like:
- Skull factures
- Broken bones
- Brain damage
Many birth injuries, though, do not produce symptoms at all for several months or even several years. These are often non-physical birth injuries, like nerve damage or relatively minor amounts of brain damage. In these cases, the symptoms are often in the form of missed developmental milestones.
As children grow older, they are expected to be able to perform certain physical, emotional, mental, and social tasks. These include things like rolling over, speaking, and sharing. If they were hurt during birth, though, they may have suffered nerve or brain damage that impairs their ability to do these things. The developmental delays from these kinds of birth injuries can be the first symptoms that you see.
Birth Injuries Caused By Genetic Defects Can Amount to Malpractice
Even when a birth injury or defect is the result of the child's genes, it can still amount to medical malpractice if a doctor failed to notify the parents of the potential for the defect.
Some genetic defects are easily detectable, and doctors have a duty to notify parents if their child is likely to be born with something wrong. If they fail to notify the parents, or if they fail to even conduct the genetic testing, they can be held liable for failing to give the parents the necessary information they needed to make an informed decision about their family.
Recovering Compensation for Birth Injury Victims in Alabama
Newborn children and their families can file a personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors, surgeons, and hospital that was responsible for their ordeal. That lawsuit can demand compensation to cover for the considerable damages that the malpractice has caused.
Unlike many other kinds of personal injury cases, though, the legal damages suffered by birth injury victims are heavily focused on costs that will accumulate well after the lawsuit was filed. While a typical personal injury case involving an injured adult will seek compensation for lost wages and medical bills, those involving newborns afflicted with a birth defect focus more on:
- lost earning capacity over the course of their professional lives;
- the physical pain that comes with the birth injury;
- the suffering and mental anguish that children feel when they are not capable of doing the things that they see other children doing; and
- anticipated medical expenses of treating the fallout from the birth injury over the course of the child's lifetime.
Unlike in many other states, Alabama does not have a statutory cap on the amount of legal damages that are recoverable in a birth injury claim. This is extremely good news for victims, who benefit from a lack of a damage cap by being able to recover all of the compensation that they deserve, no matter how much a jury sees fit.
Infant Wrongful Death Cases
Some of the most devastating birth injuries end with the newborn's death.
When the newborn dies as a result of a medical professional's negligence or malpractice, the doctor and their medical institution should be held accountable for the tragic results. The child's parents or loved ones can do this and recover the compensation that they deserve by filing a wrongful death lawsuit on the newborn's behalf.
Infant wrongful death cases can happen for several reasons, including:
- Traumatic injuries during birth
- Reduced blood flow
- Oxygen deprivation
Of these causes of infant death, oxygen deprivation is one of the most common. Also known as hypoxia, severe oxygen deprivation can have lasting repercussions on a child's development. If the oxygen deprivation is total and the newborn is unable to breath for extended periods of time during the delivery process, they can suffocate.
When the medical professionals responsible for delivering the baby did not notice that the child was being deprived of oxygen, or noticed but did not do anything about it, they can be responsible for the results.
Different states have different rules for whether an infant wrongful death case can be brought against medical providers when the baby was stillborn or died from malpractice before it was viable.
Alabama, however, provides some of the most extensive protections for unborn children.
In Alabama, parents can file wrongful death lawsuits on behalf of their deceased infants, even if the unborn child was not viable at the time of the fatal malpractice. According to the Supreme Court of Alabama's decision in Stinnett v. Kennedy, the viability of a stillborn child at the time of the malpractice does not matter for medical malpractice lawsuits. Parents can sue negligent doctors for malpractice that caused the death of their fetus, even if the fetus was not viable.
Statute of Limitations in Alabama Birth Defect Cases
While Alabama's lack of a damage cap is helpful to birth injury victims, Alabama has a statute of limitations that is far more restrictive. This statute of limitations, found at Alabama Code § 6.5.482, forces parents who want to file a birth injury case on their hurt child's behalf to take action before two years have passed.
If the parents do not file a lawsuit, a child in Alabama has only until their eighth birthday to file a lawsuit on their own behalf. This is far more restrictive than other states in the U.S. where children are usually given until their 18th or 21st birthday. It means that children are often left to rely completely on their parents' decision to pursue compensation for their birth injuries, making it even more important for parents to take the initiative rather than leave the decision to their child.
Birth Injury Lawyers With a Proven Track Record at Gilman & Bedigian
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian have a track record of success in representing birth injury victims. Contact us online to tap into that experience and pursue the compensation you or your child deserves.