When doctors commit medical malpractice and the victim is a newborn baby, they can be held liable for the birth injury that they have caused. This means they can be made to pay compensation for the repercussions of their negligence or their mistakes.
In Florida, the birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims recover the compensation they need and deserve after suffering a terrible birth injury.
Birth Injuries are Often Caused by Medical Malpractice in Florida
Medical malpractice is a main cause of birth injuries in Florida.
That malpractice can happen at any point during the pregnancy – from early on all the way through the delivery process.
Malpractice can happen early on in the pregnancy and cause a birth injury if it damages the fetus or prevents it from fully developing. This can happen in a variety of ways:
- Prescribing a mother drugs that would harm the fetus without first checking to see if she was pregnant
- Harming the fetus during an invasive procedure
- Failing to detect a genetic abnormality that would increase the risks of a birth injury
These mistakes can prevent the parents from making an informed decision about their family.
However, the types of medical malpractice that cause birth injuries are more likely to happen when the baby is being born. Examples of this kind of malpractice include:
- Hurting the child by using an extraction device with too much force during an assisted delivery
- Not performing a C-section procedure correctly
- Allowing signs of fetal distress to continue for too long
Defective Medical Devices Can Also Be Responsible
Occasionally, a birth injury is caused not by the doctor or healthcare professional, but by the tools those people were using during the medical procedure. When medical devices are defective, they can break during a procedure and cause an injury, or can pose a threat to a patient through no fault of the doctor.
These cases are rare when compared to birth injuries that are caused by medical malpractice, but they do happen. Doctors use a huge number of medical devices during an average childbirth procedure – and many more if it requires a C-section – and the failure of any one of these devices can have catastrophic consequences for the mother and the newborn child.
Some of the most common and most widely-used medical devices in a delivery procedure include:
- Vacuum extraction devices
Each of these devices can be defective in one of the following ways:
- Defective designs create products that needlessly put patients at risk
- Defectively manufactured devices do not follow the intended design and carry a higher risk of breaking or hurting a patient
- Defective instructions can fail to warn doctors about the risks associated with the normal use of the device, preventing them from taking appropriate precautions
Additionally, medical devices that need to be sterile can be defectively packaged and shipped if they are contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria between the manufacturing plant and the hospital that ends up using them.
In these cases, the doctor is not the person who is ultimately responsible for the patient's pain and suffering. Instead, it is the maker of the medical device. Holding them accountable for their negligence or poor conduct can take a products liability lawsuit.
Different Kinds of Birth Injuries
A birth injury is any physical or mental injury suffered by a child while developing in the uterus or while they are being born. Because these processes are complicated and can go wrong in a lot of different ways, there are also numerous different kinds of birth injuries.
Some of the most common or severe, though, include:
- Oxygen deprivation which can amount to perinatal asphyxia
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging or intracranial hemorrhaging
- Erb's Palsy
- Cerebral Palsy
- Facial paralysis
- Shoulder dystocia
Many of these examples of birth injuries can saddle a child with debilitating medical conditions that they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. To make matters worse, some of these medical conditions will cause further complications as time goes on, exacerbating the problems that the child will face.
Birth Injuries Can Happen in Florida During the Pregnancy or the Delivery
While there are a wide variety of different birth injuries that can happen – and with each particular type of birth injury coming in severe or relatively minor forms – birth injuries can only happen at two stages:
- The pregnancy, which involves a fetus suffering harm while developing in the mother's uterus; or
- The delivery, which involves the emerging baby suffering trauma that causes lasting damage.
Florida Birth Injuries in Utero
Some birth injuries happen while the fetus is still in the womb.
Many of these cases involve a doctor prescribing drugs to the mother without ensuring she is not pregnant. Many prescription drugs can have a dangerous impact on the development of a fetus. Whenever a doctor prescribes one of them to a woman who could be pregnant, tests should be run beforehand to make sure no harm can be done. If a doctor fails to take a reasonable precaution like this, it can amount to medical malpractice and make them liable for the birth injuries that it causes.
Other birth injuries that happen in utero stem from poorly administered genetic tests that could have detected a birth injury or abnormality, but failed to do so. This can keep the parents unaware of their child's condition and can prevent them from making an informed decision about their family.
Birth Injuries in a Florida Delivery Room
Birth injuries are more likely to happen in the delivery room than while the fetus is still in the uterus, though. The labor and the delivery process are complicated and can become traumatic for both the mother and her child. Minimizing the amount of fetal distress during the delivery is a huge part of the process, but doctors can make bad decisions or act negligently that can actually make things worse, like using an extraction device in a way that it was not intended and actually hurting the newborn.
An example of a birth injury that happened in the delivery room happened to a mother in Baltimore who went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to deliver a baby boy. Despite the fact that there were clear signs of major fetal distress, doctors did not take reasonable or appropriate action to reduce it. Instead, they waited for nearly two hours before performing a C-section. By that point, the baby had been deprived of so much oxygen that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and other physical and mental issues.
With the help of Gilman & Bedigian, the boy and his family sued the hospital and recovered a Maryland-record $55 million verdict for his birth injuries.
What are the Most Common Symptoms of a Birth Injury?
The symptoms of a birth injury can be apparent either right after the birth, or can take months or years to develop. Those that are immediately apparent, though, can be vague enough that it is very difficult to tell that a birth injury has happened.
Symptoms Right After Birth
Especially when the child's birth injury has caused them a physical debilitation, the symptoms can be readily apparent. They are often:
- Muscle paralysis, often in the face, neck, or arms of the child
- Weak limbs and poor movement skills
- Broken bones, often the collarbone
- Dislocated shoulders
- A fractured skull, which usually presents a lump or an indentation in the child's head
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging – an eye condition that indicates excessive head pressure during delivery
However, some other symptoms might also serve as hints that the child has suffered a birth injury. While these symptoms are rarely enough on their own to diagnose a birth injury, they can be a sign that something is wrong and that a trip to the pediatrician is wise:
- Excessive fussiness
- Crying with an arched back
- Vomiting or nausea
- Sensory issues, like hearing or vision problems
- Problems eating, including swallowing difficulties
- Excessive drooling
- Strange eye movements
Symptoms of Delayed Development
When the birth injury was neurological rather than physical, the symptoms often take far longer to present themselves. In these cases, the main symptom is that the child is not meeting the developmental milestones that one can expect of their age. While nearly all children struggle with one or two of the tasks that doctors use to track their growth and progress, children who have neurological problems caused by a birth injury can quickly fall well behind their peers across the board. Unfortunately, this can take several months or over a year to detect.
What Happens if the Child Dies?
Some cases of medical malpractice involving newborns are so severe that the medical conditions caused by the malpractice lead to the death of the child. Just because the newborn dies, though, does not mean that the doctor and his or her medical institution should not be held liable for their poor conduct. They should still be made to compensate the grieving parents.
Many of these cases involve medical malpractice that causes one of the following conditions:
- Hypoxia, or complete oxygen deprivation
- Reduced blood flow
- A traumatic injury during delivery
Oxygen deprivation, when it is complete and lasts for several minutes without being abated, can cause lasting damage to the child's brain, organs, and other tissue. In the most severe cases of hypoxia, the lack of oxygen causes a complete shutdown. This is often fatal.
Even if the child is breathing, the oxygen that they are getting may not get to the brain or organs at a steady-enough rate if their blood flow is reduced. This can create the same repercussions as a case of hypoxia.
Finally, doctors who are negligent during the newborn's delivery can cause a physical injury that is severe enough to kill the child. For example, the doctor could fracture the child's skull, break his or her neck, or cause a severe spinal cord injury that proves to be fatal.
In Florida, parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctor and his or her hospital on behalf of their deceased newborn under Florida Statute § 768.19. Unfortunately, this statute only applies to situations where the child was born alive, only to die later on from the results of the doctor's negligence or malpractice. The Supreme Court of Florida, in the 1977 case Stern v. Miller, determined from the context of the statute that it was not meant to apply to children who were stillborn because of an injury they had suffered while in utero.
Florida Birth Injury Compensation
Birth injury victims and their families can recover compensation for their losses by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in Florida against the doctor that acted negligently and the hospital that employs them. If successful, this lawsuit can recover compensation that covers all of the setbacks and expenses associated with the birth injury, including:
- Medical bills, including the expenses that are reasonably anticipated in the future;
- The child's reduced earning capacity from their birth injury;
- Physical pain and suffering that the child experiences;
- Mental pain and anguish felt by the child, including their loss of life's enjoyments as they struggle with the debilitation of their injuries; and/or
- Loss of consortium for the child's family as they deal with how the birth injury affects their lives.
No Damage Caps in Florida
Importantly, Florida does not have a law that puts a limit on how much compensation can be recovered in a medical malpractice or birth injury lawsuit. Florida used to have a law that did so – Florida Statute § 766.118 – but that law was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Florida in North Broward Hospital v. Kalitan as a violation of the state's Equal Protection Clause. This means that victims who have suffered a birth injury, as well as their families, can recover all of the compensation that would make them, in theory, whole.
Statute of Limitations
Florida requires birth injury lawsuits be brought before the statute of limitations has expired. For birth injury cases, that statute of limitations can be found at Florida Statute § 95.11(4), which gives victims two years to file their case. However, children who have been hurt in a birth injury case can file without their parents also being listed as plaintiffs any time before their eighth birthday.
Compassionate, Experienced Birth Injury Lawyers Serving Florida
If you or a loved one has been hurt by a doctor's medical malpractice and suffered a birth injury, you may be entitled to compensation. Reach out to the attorneys at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian by contacting us online to get started with your case and fight for the compensation that you need and deserve.