Birth injuries are often preventable medical conditions suffered by newborns. They are often the result of medical malpractice and can be compensated with a successful lawsuit against the negligent doctor and his or her institution.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian help victims in Arizona recover the compensation that they need and deserve after their life has been turned upside down by a birth injury in their family.
Birth Injuries Are Common in the U.S.
Something that can surprise many Americans is just how frequently birth injuries happen in hospitals in the country. One study found that there were present in an estimated 0.07% of live births and accounted for almost 2% of neonatal deaths.
Given that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are around 3.86 million babies born in the U.S. every year, that means there are around 270,000 newborns experience a birth injury on an annual basis.
How Birth Injuries Can Happen
Birth injuries can happen in one of two ways:
- in utero; and/or
- during the delivery process.
Medical Malpractice is a Major Cause of Birth Injuries
Most birth injuries are caused in the delivery room when a doctor or other healthcare professional makes a mistake, a bad decision, or does something negligently, like:
- Failing to notice clear signs of fetal distress
- Noticing the warning signs of a difficulty in delivering the baby but not taking appropriate reaction
- Negligently administering the epidural
- Using extraction devices too forcefully
- Improperly performing a C-section procedure
In any of these cases, the result can be an injured newborn. Those injuries can plague them for the rest of their life.
Holding a doctor and their medical institution accountable for what they have done is crucial for the injured child and their parents to make a full recovery.
How Birth Injuries Caused by Genetic Defects Can Become Malpractice
Genetic abnormalities are impossible to control and can lead to children being born with significant defects or disabilities. While they cannot be controlled, they can be detected.
When a doctor does not bother to run a genetic test or otherwise fails to notice and act on reasonable signs that the unborn child could have a genetic abnormality that will affect their life, that failure can amount to medical malpractice. Without that information, parents are kept from making an informed healthcare decision about their child, their pregnancy, and the future of their family.
In Utero Birth Injuries
Fetuses develop and grow rapidly in the womb during pregnancy. Even tiny mistakes can impair that development.
One way for that to happen is if a doctor prescribes medication to the mother that would imperil a fetus, all without checking to make sure that the woman is not pregnant. By not making sure that the woman is not pregnant and then prescribing a pill that would be dangerous to a fetus, doctors can commit malpractice by negligently causing a birth injury.
Another way for birth injuries to happen in utero is for a doctor to fail to conduct a genetic test when signs that one is wise have presented themselves. These tests can calculate how probable a birth defect will be based on the parents' genetics. It can help parents make an informed health decision about their pregnancy and child.
Delivery Room Mistakes Cause Birth Injuries
A more common scenario, though, is a birth injury that is caused by a mistake that happens in the delivery room. Doctors need to take appropriate action to make sure both the mother and the child remain healthy throughout the procedure. When they make a mistake or act negligently, it can amount to malpractice. This includes:
- Not taking action when there are signs of trouble in the pregnancy,
- Negligently using extraction devices to assist in the delivery, or
- Ignoring signs of fetal distress that could harm the child if not corrected.
Birth Injuries During Delivery
Birth injuries are probably more likely to happen during the delivery process, though. These birth injuries are often the result of a traumatic delivery or labor and frequently involve the use of assisted delivery methods. When doctors fail to take adequate precautions during the delivery, it can create the conditions that drastically increase fetal distress that tends to end with a birth injury.
While Less Common, Defective Medical Devices Can Cause a Birth Injury
While most birth injuries are caused by the doctor's medical malpractice in the delivery room or their failure to recognize birth defects, occasionally a birth injury will be caused by a defective medical device.
Especially when they have to assist in the baby's delivery, doctors use a wide variety of medical devices during childbirth. These include things like:
- Forceps, which can reposition the baby at the beginning of the birth canal to make the process easier
- Vacuum-assisted extraction devices, which tug on the baby in the birth canal if it gets stuck
- Numerous types of drugs for the mother during the delivery, both to ease her pain and to increase her dilation
- Towels, sponges, and other sanitary instruments
Each of these devices and other implements is used at the very end of a long supply chain that begins with the device's design. Mistakes can be made at every step of the way, putting newborn children in peril:
- Defectively designed medical instruments put patients and infants at unnecessary risk because of a design flaw
- Manufacturing defects create medical products that do not comport with the design and can break and cause a birth injury
- Instructions for medical devices can fail to warn doctors of the potential for harm that the device can cause, keeping the doctor from acting differently to protect his or her patient
- Packaging for sterilized equipment can be inadequate or broken, putting the eventual user at risk of an infection from bacteria-laden medical devices
While the doctor may not be at fault for these situations, that does not mean that the injured newborn and his or her parents cannot recover compensation. The negligent party or company responsible for the defective device can be held accountable through a products liability lawsuit.
A Birth Injury Example: Gilman & Bedigian's $55 Million Verdict
An example of how a birth injury can happen comes from a recent case that the medical malpractice lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian brought all the way to trial.
In that case, an expectant mother in Baltimore went to Johns Hopkins Hospital. There, doctors did not respond to clear signs of fetal distress for more than two hours. When they finally changed tactics and went from a vaginal birth to a C-section, the fetus had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was born with mental disabilities, physical abnormalities, and Cerebral Palsy.
With the help of the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian, the child and his parents sued the doctors and the hospital, all of whom denied wrongdoing. The case went all the way to trial, and the jury awarded the injured child $55 million in damages, a Maryland record for a birth injury case.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
A birth injury is any kind of medical condition suffered by a fetus or a newborn baby. They come in a huge variety of conditions, ranging from inconsequential to life-threatening. Some of the most common and severe birth injuries include:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Nerve damage
- Intracranial or subconjunctival hemorrhage
- Oxygen deprivation
- Fractures of the skull or facial bones
- Shoulder dystocia
- Spinal cord injuries
Symptoms of Birth Injuries are Often Difficult to See
There are some birth injuries that come with very apparent symptoms, like:
- Broken bones
- A fractured skull
- Facial paralysis
- Dislocated shoulder
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage
- Lack of movement or strength in a limb
However, many other birth injuries come with symptoms that are far more general. These can be a symptom of a birth injury or a wide variety of other medical issues, or even none at all. These vague symptoms include:
- Excessive drooling
- Fussing, crying, or whining without a known cause
- Crying with an arched back, a sign that the baby is in pain
- Coughing or wheezing
- Difficulties breathing, eating, or swallowing
There are also many internal symptoms of a birth injury that may be difficult to detect because the child cannot communicate them. These include:
- Hearing or vision loss
To make matters even more difficult, some birth injuries do damage to a child's mental development that will not become apparent until the child has grown. For example, non-catastrophic incidents of oxygen deprivation can make a child seem normal for months or even years until they face challenging mental tasks.
In these cases, the first symptoms that a child has suffered a birth injury may be their regular failure to hit developmental milestones. These milestones are used by doctors to gauge how a child is growing and to detect medical conditions that may be holding them back. They track the child's mental, physical, social, and emotional growth. When a child consistently fails to hit these milestones at the age they are supposed to meet them, it can be a sign that they were subjected to medical malpractice and suffered a birth injury that the doctor and the hospital should be made to compensate.
Compensation for Victims in Arizona
In Arizona, both the children who directly suffer a birth injury and their parents can file a personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctors and medical facilities ultimately responsible for the injury. That compensation is meant to cover all of the setbacks associated with the birth injury.
This goes far beyond just the medical expenses that have already been accumulated to care for and treat the birth injury. It also includes:
- the costs of reasonably anticipated medical bills in the future;
- physical pain suffered by the child due to the birth injury;
- mental suffering from having to live with a birth injury that will prevent the child from living his or her life to the fullest; and
- loss of consortium and companionship suffered by the victim's parents.
Luckily, in Arizona, there are no laws that limit the amount of compensation that victims can receive. Instead, Article 2, Section 31 of Arizona's State Constitution forbids these limitations – called damage caps – in the state. This sets Arizona apart from lots of other states in the U.S., some of which have very stringent caps that under-compensate victims.
Wrongful Death Cases Involving Infants in Arizona
In some of the worst incidents, the medical malpractice can leave a newborn with such severe problems that the child dies a short time after birth. In other cases, the child is stillborn due to the doctor's negligence.
Doctors and their institutions can still be held liable for their malpractice when it leaves a newborn dead. Arizona's wrongful death statute allows the victim's parents to file a lawsuit on the deceased child's behalf.
Arizona Revised Statute § 12-611 holds negligent parties liable for their actions whenever their conduct causes the death of another person. While the statute does not define what is meant by the word “person,” the Supreme Court of Arizona has defined it.
In the 1974 case Kilmer v. Hicks, the Supreme Court had ruled that “person” under Arizona's wrongful death statute meant someone alive. This meant that a newborn had to be born alive to be considered a person with rights under the statute.
However, in 1985, the Arizona Supreme Court decided that was not the way to go. In Summerfield v. Superior Court of Maricopa County, the court said that the rights under § 12-611 conferred on unborn fetuses once they became viable. Viability hinged on whether the fetus could survive outside the womb. Summerfield had involved a 37-week-old fetus that was born stillborn because of the doctor's malpractice. The Supreme Court allowed the parents to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor and hospital and demand the compensation they were entitled to receive under the wrongful death statute.
These rights do not, however, do not extend to fertilized eggs that are not in the mother's womb. Jeter v. Mayo Clinic Arizona, refused to extend the state's wrongful death statute that far.
Statute of Limitations for Birth Injury Claims in Arizona
Victims of birth injuries must still comply with Arizona's statute of limitations when they file a lawsuit for compensation. This statute of limitations, found at Arizona Statute 12-542, requires parents of injured children to file their claim within two years of discovering the injury.
Children who have been hurt by a birth injury, however, can file a lawsuit without their parents' help. If an injured child's parents do not file a lawsuit on their behalf, these children can invoke their own rights to compensation. Because they were hurt while they were underage, Arizona Statute 12-821.01 tolls or delays the beginning of the statute of limitations until the injured child turns 18.
Birth Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian Serve Arizona
Children who have suffered a birth injury thanks to a doctor's medical malpractice deserve compensation for their plights. The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help and have a track record of successes to back it up. Contact us online to get started on your case and make sure the people responsible for a birth injury pay the compensation they should pay.