Birth injuries happen when doctors commit medical malpractice and their negligence or their poor decision ends up hurting a newborn baby. That malpractice can happen either during the pregnancy or during the delivery itself. In either case, it can saddle the child with a debilitating medical condition that will change the course of their life.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims and their families in Georgia when a child has been born with a medical condition because of a doctor's malpractice.
What are Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries are the result of medical malpractice. Unlike other incidents of malpractice, though, the victim is a newborn rather than an adult or even a young child. Because of the doctor's poor conduct, the baby is born with serious medical conditions that they may suffer from for the rest of their life.
In some cases, that medical condition is permanent and will never get better.
Examples of birth injuries that can happen in Georgia are:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss
- Bleeding inside the skull, often in the form of either an intracranial hemorrhage or a subconjunctival hemorrhage
- Facial paralysis
- Shoulder dystocia, where the baby's shoulders get caught in the birth canal, compressing the umbilical cord and depriving the baby of oxygen
- Oxygen deprivation, which can cause a host of other complications and developmental delays or even perinatal asphyxia.
Each of these conditions can be relatively minor or very severe. Even if they are not as serious as they could have been, though, the child who suffers one of these birth injuries will find themselves struggling to live a full life through no fault of their own.
What are the Symptoms of a Birth Injury?
There are a lot of different symptoms that a child has suffered a birth injury. Some are more reliable than others, though. While some of these symptoms appear right after the child's birth, others can take years to show themselves.
Some of the less reliable symptoms that your child has suffered a birth injury are:
- Eating difficulties
- Nausea or vomiting
- Problems swallowing
- Strange eye movements
- Crying while arching its back
- Vision or hearing problems
These symptoms can be a sign of a birth injury or something else, entirely. Seeing a pediatrician that is independent of the hospital that delivered the baby is essential to get a correct diagnosis.
More reliable symptoms of a birth injury can present themselves immediately after the child's birth, or up to several years afterwards.
The immediate symptoms of a birth injury are:
- Respiratory problems so severe that the baby needs a breathing tube
- A lump or indentation on the baby's head – a sign of a skull fracture
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging in the baby's eye – a sign that the pressure on the baby's skull during delivery was intense and could have caused other problems
- Broken bones
- A dislocated shoulder
- Paralyzed facial muscles, often detectable from asymmetrical facial movements
- A limp or weak limb, often an arm or hand
The long-term symptoms of a birth injury are developmental delays caused by neurological conditions caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. These symptoms come in the form of consistently missed developmental milestones. When a child is struggling to keep up with his or her peers in these signs of growth, it can indicate that the child is fighting through a medical condition caused by a birth injury.
Birth Injuries in Georgia Often Happen During the Baby's Delivery
Most of these types of birth injuries tend to happen during the baby's delivery.
The birthing process can be incredibly traumatic for both the newborn and the mother. Lots of things happen very quickly, so there is a lot that can go wrong and leave the child with a debilitating birth injury. However, there are ways for doctors to reduce the amount of fetal distress in the delivery room, often by taking reasonable precautions to avoid stressful situations and by using extraction devices carefully, if they do end up being needed.
When things go wrong in the delivery room, though, the consequences can be dire. The birth injury lawyers recently represented a family that was rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to give birth. Despite strong signs of fetal distress, though, doctors dragged their feet for hours before performing a C-section. By then, the baby had been so deprived of oxygen that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and both physical and mental impairments.
With the help of Gilman & Bedigian, the family sued the doctors and the hospital for malpractice and won a record-setting $55 million verdict.
Birth Injuries in Georgia Also Happen During the Pregnancy
While less common, birth injuries can also be suffered in the uterus. This often happens when a doctor commits malpractice by prescribing a pregnant woman drugs that would harm the fetus. In many of these cases, the doctor failed to make sure that the patient was not pregnant before writing the prescription.
In still other cases, doctors commit malpractice and cause a birth injury by failing to properly perform or read a genetic test. This can leave a birth defect or injury undetected and can prevent the family from making an informed healthcare decision.
Causes of Birth Injuries
These birth injuries can be caused by genetics or by a doctor's malpractice. Even when genetics are ultimately to blame for the child's birth injuries, it can still amount to medical malpractice if the healthcare professional failed to detect the genetic problem or relay the information to the parents.
Delivery Room Malpractice Can Cause a Birth Injury
One of the most common causes of a baby being born with a birth injury is medical malpractice that happens in the delivery room. When a doctor, surgeon, or other medical professional acts negligently, makes a bad decision, or neglects to do something, it can put the mother and her child at serious risk.
This can happen in numerous ways, like:
- The anesthesiologist negligently administers the epidural shot
- Nurses neglect the mother during labor
- A doctor fails to notice certain signs of fetal distress
- A doctor notices signs of fetal distress but does not act on them
- A surgeon negligently performs a C-section and hurts the child
- A doctor uses too much force with an extraction device during an assisted delivery
Genetic Defects Can Lead to Malpractice, Too
Even when a birth injury was technically caused by a genetic defect, victims can still hold a doctor and their medical institution liable for malpractice if the doctor failed to discover the problem or did not notify the parents.
These birth injuries are the ones that tend to happen in utero. While they are caused by the child's genes, the doctor has a duty to look for genetic problems and relay that information to the parents so they can make an informed decision. When the doctor fails to do so, it can lead to liability for the child's birth defects.
Defective Medical Devices
While far less common than genetics or medical malpractice, defective medical devices have been known to cause birth injuries, as well.
Doctors and other healthcare professionals use lots of different medical devices during the delivery procedure. These include things like:
- Personal protective equipment, like gowns, gloves, and masks
- Drugs like Oxycontin and an epidural to dilate the cervix and reduce the mother's pain
- Extraction devices, like forceps or a vacuum-assisted delivery device
If any of these things is defective, it can create serious consequences for the mother and newborn child that were depending on them during the procedure. If they break or do not function properly, they can directly hurt the newborn and cause a birth injury, or can complicate the delivery and indirectly cause a birth injury as the doctors scramble to correct what went wrong.
Medical devices can be defective in three different ways. They can be:
- Defectively designed
- Defectively manufactured
- Defectively advertised
Design defects create entire models of medical devices that pose an unnecessary threat to patients. Manufacturing defects create products that do not comply with the intended design, putting people at risk. Advertising defects fail to warn doctors about the risks of using the device in its intended way.
Medical devices, though, can also be defectively shipped. Much of the equipment used in the delivery room has to be sterile. If the packaging was ripped or defective, it can get contaminated with bacteria between the manufacturing plant and the hospital, posing a threat of infection to the newborn child.
When a device was defective and this caused a birth injury, the doctor was not at fault. Instead, it was one of the companies responsible for making the device. A products liability lawsuit can hold them accountable and recover compensation for the victims.
Compensation for Victims of Birth Injuries in Georgia
In Georgia, the victims of birth injuries are entitled to compensation when they were caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. That compensation is meant to cover the costs of the child's:
- Past medical bills
- Medical expenses reasonably anticipated in the future
- Reduced earning capacity
- Physical pain from the birth injury
- Mental suffering and anguish, including the loss of life's enjoyments caused by the developmental delays and medical difficulties from the injury
In addition to compensation for the child who was born with a birth injury, the child's parents can also recover compensation loss of consortium, which covers the stress and difficulties they will have to deal with as they raise a child with a severe medical condition.
Unlike in many other states, Georgia does not have a statute that limits the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a birth injury lawsuit. Georgia used to have one of these statutes, but the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled it unconstitutional in 2010 in the case Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery v. Nesthehutt. In that case, the state supreme court decided that statutes capping the amount of compensation available to victims intruded on the right of a victim to a trial by jury. By not allowing the jury to award damages above a certain amount, the statute took power away from the jury and deprived victims of their right to sue.
Infant Wrongful Death
Some of the birth injuries caused by a doctor's medical malpractice are fatal. These tragic cases often involve one of the following birth injuries:
- A traumatic injury sustained during birth
- Reduced blood flow
- Hypoxia, or severe and unresolved oxygen deprivation
If a spell of oxygen deprivation is total or is not corrected, it can cause the damage or death of cells in the newborn's brain, organs, or other tissues. Even if the baby is breathing, the oxygen may not get to where it needs to go if the newborn's blood flow is compromised. Finally, severe and life-threatening birth injuries can also be suffered during delivery if the doctor uses too much force. This can cause a fractured skull or broken spine that can prove to be a fatal injury.
In Georgia, whenever someone dies from injuries caused by the negligence of someone else – including the negligence or malpractice of a doctor – the victim's family or representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the wrongdoer. These lawsuits prevent the responsible party from escaping liability simply because the victim was hurt so badly that they have been left unable to invoke their own rights.
Georgia extends these rights to the parents of unborn children who have suffered a fatal injury thanks to a doctor's malpractice. Those rights come from the Court of Appeals' 1955 decision Porter v. Lassiter, though they have been recognized more recently by the Georgia Supreme Court in Peters v. Hospital Authority of Elbert County. This means that parents of stillborn children can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their deceased child. That lawsuit can be filed, even if the malpractice hurt the child early on in the pregnancy. This can hold a negligent doctor and his or her hospital accountable for their poor actions.
Georgia Statute of Limitations for Birth Injuries
In Georgia, all birth injury lawsuits have to be filed before the statute of limitations has expired. For medical malpractice lawsuits for a birth injury brought by the child's parents on the child's behalf, that statute of limitations is two years under Georgia Statute § 9-3-71.
However, the child also has the option of exercising their rights without their parents and filing the lawsuit on their own behalf. In these cases, the statute of limitations is tolled or delayed because the victim is so young. Georgia Statute § 9-3-73 gives children until their seventh birthday to file a birth injury lawsuit.
Gilman & Bedigian: Aggressive and Compassionate Birth Injury Lawyers Serving Victims in Georgia
If you or your child has been hurt by a doctor's medical malpractice and suffered a birth injury, you may be entitled to compensation. The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help. Contact us online to get started on your case and tap into their track record of success in getting birth injury victims and their families in the compensation they deserve.