Out of all of the injuries that medical malpractice can cause, birth injuries are widely regarded as the most devastating. The victim is a newborn child, who will then have to live his or her entire life with the results of the malpractice. The debilitation of a serious birth injury can prevent the child from living a full life and can sometimes prove to be fatal after only a few short years.
The personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian have a track record of success representing victims who have suffered serious birth injuries at the hands of a doctor's malpractice. Victims in Alaska who have suffered a birth injury or whose child has been hurt by a doctor's mistake or negligence can rely on us for effective legal help.
The Different Kinds of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries are disturbingly common in America. One study estimated that between 0.06 and 0.08% of live births in the country led to a birth injury to the newborn. With more than 3.85 million babies born in the U.S. every year, that means between 231,000 and 309,000 infants are born with a defect, abnormality, or birth injury every single year.
Those birth injuries can happen at two important junctures: During pregnancy or during the delivery.
Birth Injuries During Pregnancy
Birth injuries that happen during the mother's pregnancy can be the result of a doctor's malpractice in several different situations:
- The doctor did not perform a genetic test to determine the risk of a genetic birth injury.
- The doctor performed a genetic test but misread the results or failed to communicate them with the parents.
- The doctor prescribed the mother medication that would be harmful to a fetus without first checking to make sure the mother was not pregnant at the time.
These in utero birth injuries can be devastating because they will often permanently saddle the child with debilitating injuries that cannot be overcome. When the doctor's mistake is a failure to detect a genetic birth injury or abnormality, it can prevent the parents from making an informed healthcare decision.
Most Birth Injuries Are Caused By Delivery Room Malpractice
The vast majority of the birth injuries that happen in Alaska are the result of a healthcare professional's medical malpractice in the delivery room. For example, a doctor can:
- Make poor decisions when faced with a difficult delivery;
- Use too much force with assisted delivery devices and hurt the unborn child;
- Negligently provide anesthesia, like an epidural, or other drugs; or
- Ignore or misread sure signs that the unborn child is in distress.
These negligent actions can cause a birth complication like oxygen deprivation that puts the child at risk of developing a serious birth injury. In some cases, that injury will impair the child for their entire life. In others, it can be fatal.
Birth Injuries During Delivery
The birth injuries that happen during the baby's delivery are often far more traumatic because they are frequently caused by physical force. In many cases, doctors use assisted delivery methods during traumatic births or protracted labor. However, these can cause fetal stress that can break bones or cause other injuries if done improperly. Avoiding these situations and preventing them from developing is critical, but doctors often miss signs of fetal stress, forcing them to use potentially dangerous methods to bring the delivery through to its completion.
Examples of In Utero & During Delivery Birth Injuries
Examples of birth injuries – both in utero and during delivery – include:
- Oxygen deprivation
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Intracranial hemorrhaging
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging
- Spinal cord injuries
- Should dystocia
- Skull fractures
Genetic Defects Can Also Lead to Liability for Malpractice
Even genetic defects can lead to medical malpractice if the doctor fails to take reasonable steps to detect a defect or fails to notify the parents of the potential for giving birth to an injured child.
Many genetic problems are detectable early in the pregnancy. If the doctor misreads the result of a genetic test or fails to conduct one, at all, they can keep the parents from making an informed decision. That negligence can amount to malpractice in some cases.
Symptoms of a Birth Injury
Obviously, different birth injuries will cause different symptoms. In some cases the symptoms are very apparent, like when the baby is born with a broken bone from a traumatic delivery. However, there are some signs that parents can look for in a newborn that suggest a less apparent birth injury:
- Difficulties swallowing or eating
- Inability to gain weight
- Breathing difficulties
- Excessive drooling
- Sensitivity to light
- Low heart rate
- Seizures, especially within a few days of birth
- Coughing or wheezing
- Poor reflexes
- Movement difficulties
- The baby arches its back while crying
These symptoms, though, can be explained by other health issues or even innocuous causes rather than a birth injury. It is important to talk to an independent pediatrician to see if your child suffered a birth injury.
Not all symptoms of a birth injury are present immediately after the child is born. Many birth injuries cause emotional or mental impairments or developmental delays that only become apparent months or even years after the child's birth.
In these cases, the symptoms of the child's birth injury are the developmental milestones that they miss. These milestones are the physical, social, and mental capabilities that children are expected to develop as they grow up. When they consistently miss these milestones and fall behind their peers, it is a symptom that something is wrong and that they may have suffered a birth injury that is impairing or slowing their growth and development.
It may take up to a year for the delayed symptoms of a child's birth injury to even begin to show themselves. It may take another year for it to become apparent that those symptoms indicate that there was a birth injury, rather than some other medical condition.
Compensation Available After a Birth Injury in Alaska
Victims of birth injuries in Alaska deserve to be compensated for their losses. Those losses, also known as legal damages, can be extremely high given the age of the victim and the serious and expensive medical conditions that the injury can cause.
Because the birth injury was the result of medical malpractice rather than something the victim did or failed to do, the doctor or the hospital should be held liable and should compensate the victim and his or her family.
That compensation should cover the following setbacks:
- Medical bills. Birth injuries lead to medical complications that require expensive medical care.
- Anticipated future medical expenses. Children born with a birth injury will have to deal with it for the course of their lives. Medical expenses will continue to accumulate well after a birth injury lawsuit is finished.
- Pain and suffering. Victims should be compensated not only for the physical pain that they feel but also for the mental and emotional anguish and trauma that they suffer as the developmental delays associated with their birth injury set them behind their peers and prevent them from doing the things they want to do in life.
- Reduced earning capacity. Children who are born with a birth injury will likely struggle professionally. Compensation may be available for the income that they will no longer be able to achieve.
- Loss of consortium. Parents of a child born with a birth injury suffer as well. Compensation for their loss of consortium or companionship can be recovered in a birth injury lawsuit.
However, Alaska limits the amount of compensation that can be recovered for the parents' loss of consortium and the child's pain and suffering. When the birth injury was fatal or was more than 70% disabling, Alaska Statute 09.55.549(e) limits these types of compensation to only $400,000. When the birth injury was less than 70% disabling, 90.55.549(d) caps these damages at $250,000, regardless of how much the victims should receive.
Statute of Limitations in Alaska
Parents who want to bring a birth injury lawsuit on their injured child's behalf have two years to file the lawsuit under Alaska Statute 09.10.070. This is Alaska's statute of limitations and requires lawsuits to be filed soon after the event occurred in order to make sure evidence is still fresh.
Children who want to file on their own behalf, though, have more time to initiate the lawsuit. Alaska Statute 09.10.140 tolls or delays the statute of limitations, keeping it from running until the child's eighth birthday.
Talking to a lawyer well before the statute of limitations is set to expire, though, is important. Gathering evidence of a birth injury takes time and putting together your best case without rushing to beat the statute of limitations can drastically increase the odds of success.
An Example of a Birth Injury Lawsuit: Gilman & Bedigian's $55 Million Verdict Against Johns Hopkins
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian recently represented a birth injury victim and his family, helping them recover $55 million in compensation from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, setting the state record for the highest jury verdict in a birth injury case.
In that case, doctors did not react to clear signs of fetal distress during delivery. Instead of immediately performing a C-section, they waited two hours. During that time, the baby lost his supply of oxygen and was born with significant physical and mental disabilities, as well as Cerebral Palsy.
The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigain fought for compensation for the parents and child and won. Contact us online to get started on your case.