A birth injury is one of the most devastating possibilities that come with having a child. Even minor birth injuries can saddle children with life-long difficulties that can force them to live in pain, debilitation, or without the ability to do what they want in life. Severe birth injuries can turn a healthy baby in utero into a child born with a medical condition that drastically cuts short their lifespan.
Parents suffer from birth injuries, as well. The mental and emotional trauma that they undergo as they watch their child struggle with the fallout from their birth injury can hardly be overrated. On top of that, the financial costs of caring for a disabled child can be staggering.
In many cases, birth injuries are the result of medical malpractice.
If you or your child was born with a birth injury and you suspect that a doctor's negligence had something to do with it, you may be entitled to compensation. The medical malpractice and personal injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Harrisburg can help.
A birth injury is a disability or defect that a child has been born with.
In some cases, the defect is genetic and the parents have been alerted to the situation early on in the pregnancy. These cases involve an informed health decision by the parents to have a child with a medical condition. In many of these situations, there was little that could have been done to prevent the problem.
In many others, though, the birth injury went undiagnosed during the pregnancy or was inflicted by a negligent doctor or surgeon during the delivery procedure. These are the cases that can lead to medical malpractice claims and compensation for both the parents and the injured child.
Doctors can commit malpractice during the pregnancy by failing to discover defects or potential medical problems with the fetus. When they fail to find or even look for these problems, it prevents the child's parents from making the informed medical decision they are entitled to make on behalf of their unborn child. This kind of medical malpractice can take the following forms:
- Not ordering genetic tests
- Improperly administering genetic testing
- Failing to properly read the results of tests that could detect fetal conditions
- Not communicating the results of negative tests
During the delivery, though, the potential for malpractice that causes a birth injury becomes much more dramatic. Some deliveries are more difficult than others, and doctors and potentially even surgeons often have to make quick and very important decisions about how to proceed. While not every imperfect decision amounts to medical malpractice, those that do not abide by accepted medical norms or that negligently put mother and child in harm's way can. Malpractice during the delivery can look like:
- A failure to recognize clear signs of distress to the fetus
- Poor handling of extraction took during an assisted delivery
- A delayed decision to switch to a Cesarean Section when a natural birth has become too dangerous
- Causing additional fetal distress during the delivery
Common Types of Birth Injuries
These forms of medical malpractice can lead to some severe birth injuries that saddle both parents and child with a difficult road ahead. Some of these birth injuries can be minor inconveniences for the child – while certain birth injuries will prevent a child from doing certain things like play sports at a high level, they still allow the child to live a relatively normal life. Others, though, are extremely debilitating and can leave a child bound to a wheelchair for the rest of their life. Still others are fatal and can cut short the child's life after only a few years.
Some of the most common types of birth injuries that are frequently the result of a doctor's malpractice include:
- Bone fractures during the delivery
- Caput Succedaneum, or swelling of the child's scalp
- Intracranial or subconjunctival hemorrhage, or the rupturing of blood vessels
- Facial paralysis
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Cephalohematoma, or a bruise between the skull and scalp often caused by poor use of extraction tools like a forceps
- Perinatal asphyxia, or oxygen deprivation in the womb
- Spinal cord injuries
Birth Injuries are Disturbingly Common in Harrisburg and the U.S.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of these birth injuries is just how common they are in Harrisburg and the rest of the United States. According to medical researchers in the book Childhood Symptoms: Every Parent's Guide to Childhood Illnesses, there are around seven birth injuries for every 1,000 births in the U.S., meaning there were nearly 28,000 birth injuries every year as early as the 1990s.
This means that birth injuries happen at the rate of:
- 2,333 per month
- 538 per week
- 76 per day
- 3 per hour
Some of these birth injuries happen at Harrisburg hospitals, including:
- UPMC Pinnacle
- Harrisburg State Hospital
- Polyclinic Medical Center
- Seidle Memorial Hospital
The Financial Difficulties Faced by Birth Injury Victims
For every birth injury, there are multiple victims: the child who has actually been left injured, and the parents who have to care for them. Both the child and the parents face some extremely heavy financial consequences that stem from the birth injury, including:
- Medical bills. Birth injuries often lead to medical complications that can take years of treatment to fix or treat. In some cases, like birth defects that leave the child's heart underdeveloped, those medical complications can last for the child's entire life. Treating them can cost the parents and, later on, the child, tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. A significant portion of this expense has already been incurred and has often been paid out of the parents' pocket in the form of incomplete medical care.
- Lost income. During the initial recovery process, the parents are likely to miss some time at work and some income. But the real damage is done in the long run, when it is the child's turn to enter the workforce. There, any birth injuries they suffered early in their life can hamper their ability to earn a living.
- Pain and suffering. Parents and child are almost guaranteed to suffer physical pain and plenty of mental anguish and emotional distress from a birth injury. The hurt child will live in the knowledge that they are different from their peers and they will struggle to do the same things that other children enjoy. The parents are likely to spend countless sleepless nights worrying about their injured child's future.
There are also numerous other, smaller ways that hurt children and their parents will suffer financially from a birth injury. Some of the more common expenses include:
- Specialized medical equipment, like a wheelchair and a vehicle that can fit it
- Special education classes
- In-home care for children who cannot take care of themselves due to their injury
- Home modifications to make a house wheelchair accessible
None of these expenses would have to be paid, were it not for the doctor's negligence and malpractice in causing the child's birth injuries. To make matters even more difficult to swallow, neither parent nor child was responsible for the child's birth injuries.
Holding the doctor and medical institution accountable for their mistakes is important. Not only can it lead to you recovering the compensation that you need and deserve, but it can also push the healthcare facility towards taking more proper care of its patients, including those that have not been born yet.
The Process of Recovering the Compensation You Deserve
Just because the doctor or hospital was responsible for the birth injury and the setbacks that it has caused does not mean that they will voluntarily pay for its costs. Doctors are professionals and hospitals are for-profit businesses – they will fight you every step of the way to avoid paying anything. They will claim that it was not them, that they were not responsible, and then that your injuries are not as bad as you claim them to be.
You often have to bring them to court and prove that they were responsible for the birth injury before you will recover anything, at all.
That recovery process often takes the form of a personal injury lawsuit, which follows these steps in the birth injury context.
Discovery of the Injury and the Statute of Limitations
Some birth injuries are obvious, like when the baby was born with a broken shoulder. Others are less apparent, like when the child has nerve damage or was born deaf. Discovering the birth injury can be trickier than it sounds and can take years for the symptoms to develop.
The law in Pennsylvania recognizes this as a source of dilemma for parents and children hurt in birth injury situations. For parents, Pennsylvania tolls its statute of limitations or keeps it from starting to count down, until you could reasonably have discovered the birth injury. Once parents should have discovered the injury to their child, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2) gives them two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Children hurt by a birth injury, on the other hand, have until their 20th birthday to file a lawsuit for compensation under § 513(c) of the MCARE Act.
Once the birth injury has been discovered, you and your lawyer can begin accumulating the evidence of your losses. This includes evidence that shows:
- How much money you have spent in medical care
- Wages that have been lost
- The difficulties that the child has to overcome
- How the injury has affected your life
A common first step in the lawsuit process is to write a demand letter to the doctor and hospital. This informs them of the birth injury, tells them that both parents and child have suffered and that a lawsuit is being considered. Sometimes, demand letters lead to settlement offers.
Filing the Complaint
If the demand letter does not get very far, the next step is to file the lawsuit. This begins by filing the complaint with the court and serving it on the doctor, hospital, and whoever else is responsible for the birth injury.
The Discovery Process and Settlement Discussions
The longest period of time in the lawsuit process is discovery, where each side gathers evidence that supports their claims. Victims of birth injuries will likely be deposed by lawyers for the doctor and hospital.
As evidence accumulates, settlement discussions heat up as both sides begin to see their odds of winning the case. Most birth injury lawsuits end with a settlement at some point in this stage of the process.
Trial and Verdict
If no settlement is reached, the case will go to trial. There, the victim's lawyers will present their case for compensation, while the lawyers for the doctor and hospital will continue to argue that nothing went wrong.
After hearing the evidence for and against holding the doctor and hospital accountable, the jury will return a verdict.
Birth Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian Have Won $55 Million Verdicts
This is the process that the birth injury and medical malpractice lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian went through to recover a record-breaking $55 million verdict in a birth injury lawsuit against Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
In that case, a delayed decision to go from a normal birth to a C-section led to extreme amounts of fetal distress. Despite clear signs that they needed to move quickly, doctors took more than two hours to perform the procedure.
The baby's oxygen supply was drastically reduced in the interim, and he was born with Cerebral Palsy, as well as both mental and physical disabilities. He also suffered from seizures.
Johns Hopkins refused to take responsibility for their role in the baby boy's plight. They refused to settle after the lawsuit was filed and the case went all the way to trial, which lasted two weeks. It ended with the jury returning a $55 million verdict for the injured boy and his parents – a record for the city of Baltimore.
Contact the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian online to get started on your case.