Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of brain injury caused by the lack of blood and oxygen to the brain. When the blood and oxygen to the brain are cut off or limited, brain cells can begin to die, leading to permanent brain damage. During childbirth, a baby is at risk of oxygen deprivation when transitioning from life inside the womb to the outside.
If doctors fail to identify oxygen deprivation or fail to properly treat a baby suffering from a lack of oxygen, the baby may suffer a permanent brain injury. If the injury was caused by medical malpractice, the family may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover damages. The following information is for families and medical error victims in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Birth Injury
Hypoxia occurs when the brain does not get enough oxygen. When there is a lack of oxygenated blood to the brain, or ischemia, the body attempts to compensate by shifting blood and oxygen away from other parts of the body to prioritize oxygen to the brain. If the brain continues to suffer from oxygen deprivation, brain cells begin to die off. Brain cell death is generally permanent and after only a few minutes, a baby may suffer a permanent brain injury.
There are a number of possible causes of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE. While the baby is still in the womb, oxygen deprivation can be caused by problems in the uterus or umbilical cord, or if the mother is not getting enough oxygen. However, the most critical period is during childbirth when the baby has to transition to breathing with their lungs.
During delivery, the baby may need intervention to be able to breathe. This may include warming and rubbing the baby, providing assisted ventilation, or more aggressive therapy to keep the baby's blood and oxygen flowing until the baby can breathe on its own. Signs and symptoms of HIE or oxygen deprivation may include:
- Abnormal heart rate
- Difficulty feeding
- Breathing problems
- Low muscle tone
- Abnormal reflexes
- Meconium staining
Birth Injuries Caused by HIE
Parents may become aware of brain damage or brain injury immediately after the child is born. However, in some situations, the extent of the injury may not be known for years. Damage and injuries caused by HIE birth injuries include cerebral palsy, seizures, developmental delays, cognitive impairment, and motor dysfunction.
Time to File an HIE Birth Injury Lawsuit in Pennsylvania
There is a time limit to filing a personal injury lawsuit and each state has its own laws and restrictions. The statute of limitations (SOL) is the time limit to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit. If the patient waits too long, they may not be able to file a lawsuit for damages and will be denied compensation. It is important to talk to your medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible to make sure your claim is not denied.
In most cases, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania is 2 years. However, the “discovery rule” may extend the amount of time an injury victim has to file a claim if they do not find out about the damage until later. Pennsylvania has a “tolling statute” which means the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the plaintiff is aware of or reasonably should have been aware of the injury.
For example, a patient undergoes surgery on July 1, 2015. On March 1, 2018, the patient went to the doctor for abdominal pain and an X-ray showed a surgical device was left in the patient from the surgery. Even though the error occurred in 2015, the injury victim would generally have until March 1, 2020, to file a medical malpractice lawsuit because the clock did not begin to run until the discovery.
Birth Injury Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania
There is generally a separate rule for minors who suffer an injury caused by medical malpractice. Under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations for a minor does not begin to toll until the minor has reached the age of 18. A minor who suffered from medical malpractice generally has until they turn 20 to file a malpractice lawsuit.
For example, an OB/GYN gave a mother the wrong medication during labor and the baby suffered hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy as a result. The baby was diagnosed with brain damage and suffers from developmental disabilities. When the child turns 18, the child would have 2 years left to file a medical malpractice claim against the OB/GYN and others who caused the birth injury.
Wrongful Death Birth Injury Time Limit
There is also a separate, and shorter, statute of limitations for fatal medical injuries. In a medical malpractice lawsuit, the victim can file the claim. However, after medical malpractice that ends in a fatality, the victim is not alive to file a claim. A wrongful death lawsuit is a type of claim where the surviving family members can bring a lawsuit on behalf of their loved one.
In most cases, a wrongful death lawsuit in Pennsylvania must be brought within 2 years of death. A personal representative or surviving beneficiary must file a lawsuit within two years, or their claim may be denied. The beneficiaries of a wrongful death lawsuit may include the decedent's spouse, children, or parents. For most fatal birth injuries, the beneficiaries would be the parents.
Under Pennsylvania Code Rule 2202, within 6 months after the death of the decedent, an action for wrongful death shall be brought only by the personal representative of the decedent for the benefit of those persons entitled by law to recover damages for such wrongful death. If no action for wrongful death has been brought within 6 months of the death of the decedent, a lawsuit could also be brought by any person entitled by law to recover damages on behalf of all persons entitled to share in the damages.
Philadelphia HIE Birth Injury Attorneys
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate brain injuries caused by HIE and oxygen deprivation and determine if the damage was caused by medical malpractice. Our aggressive Philadelphia trial lawyers have helped Pennsylvania families recover millions of dollars in compensation for birth injury negligence. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.