When doctors act negligently and hurt a newborn baby, the result is a birth injury. These injuries are devastating because they leave a child with a serious medical condition from the very beginning of their life. In most cases, they are debilitating and prevent the affected child from living a full life.
Because birth injuries are often the result of medical malpractice, though, the victim and their family can be entitled to compensation for the losses that stem from the birth injury. The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims in Indiana recover the compensation they deserve.
Birth Injuries are the Result of a Doctor's Malpractice
The term “birth injury” covers all of the debilitating medical conditions that a newborn baby can suffer in their first days. Many of them are at the hands of a doctor's medical malpractice and were not caused by either the child or the child's parents.
There are dozens of medical issues that the term “birth injury” encompasses. Some of the most common and the most debilitating, though, include medical conditions like:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Facial paralysis, which can leave a newborn unable to move their facial muscles, causing a variety of complications like an inability to nurse or close their eyes
- Broken blood vessels in a baby's eye called subconjunctival hemorrhages
- Broken blood vessels in a baby's skull or brain called intracranial or subarachnoid hemorrhages
- Oxygen deprivation, which can lead to developmental delays, including perinatal asphyxia if there are physical impairments
- Shoulder dystocia, a condition where the baby's shoulder gets stuck during the delivery and impinges the umbilical cord, causing oxygen deprivation
- Diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss
Many of these conditions are entirely preventable. When they were caused by a doctor's negligence or medical malpractice, the victim and their family can recover compensation.
Symptoms of a Child's Birth Injury
These birth injuries can present a wide variety of symptoms. Unfortunately, some of these symptoms can mean a lot of different things, other than a birth injury. Worse, some symptoms of a birth injury do not become apparent until years after the child's birth.
Some birth injuries present very clear symptoms, right away. These symptoms can be:
- A fractured skull, often indicated by lumps or dents in the child's head
- Seizures, which can also indicate a fractured skull
- Broken bones, often a collarbone from an especially stressful and traumatic delivery
- Dislocated shoulder
- Bruising or swelling immediately after the delivery
- The need for a breathing tube right after the delivery
- Limp, weak, or stationary limbs
- Muscle paralysis, especially in the face, which can be an indication of deeper nerve damage
- A subconjunctival hemorrhage, which can be a sign of other problems caused by a stressful birth
Other symptoms are less conclusive, like:
- Eating problems, especially problems swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Vomiting and nausea
- Strange eye movements, which may indicate neurological problems or seizures
- Arched back which crying, which can indicate severe pain
- Coughing and wheezing
When the birth injury is a neurological one, rather than a physical one, the symptoms can be delayed for months or even years. When they do appear, it is often in the form of developmental delays, where the child is unable to perform certain tasks that doctors expect of them, once they reach a certain age. For example, there are specific ages that a child should begin to crawl, walk, and recognize their own name. While it is not uncommon for children to struggle with one or two of these milestones, if they are late on several or all of them, it can be a strong sign that something is wrong and that they suffered a birth injury.
Causes of Birth Injuries in Indiana
A doctor's medical malpractice is one of the leading causes of birth injuries in Indiana. When a doctor makes a mistake with a child or an unborn fetus, it can set off a chain reaction that leads to devastating results for the child and their family.
That initial mistake or negligent act can take a variety of forms, including:
- An incorrect C-section procedure
- A failure to notice serious signs of danger during the delivery
- Not taking the appropriate action after discovering signs of difficulty
- Incorrectly administering the epidural
- Using too much force with an extraction device during an assisted delivery
- Not conducting a genetic test to discover potential birth injuries or defects
- Failing to notify parents of the risks of a birth injury
When any one of these instances of medical malpractice happen, it can cause the child to be born with some very severe medical complications that can alter the course of their entire life. To make matters even worse, it can set off a chain reaction that leads to still other birth injuries.
For example, if a doctor uses too much force during an assisted delivery, it can cause broken bones and facial paralysis, but it can also constrict the umbilical cord and lead to oxygen deprivation. This complication can, itself, lead to some very serious medical conditions in addition to what was directly caused by the doctor's negligence.
Even though these complications are not directly caused by the act of malpractice, the chain of events that led to the eventual birth injury was caused by the doctor's poor conduct. They should be held accountable for them, even though there were intervening symptoms that puts distance between the malpractice and the eventual injury.
Birth Injuries During Pregnancy or the Delivery in Indiana
Some birth injuries are the result of medical malpractice that occurs while the mother is still pregnant with the child, even in the early stages of the pregnancy. Doctors who prescribe pregnant women drugs that could pose a threat to a fetus should make sure their patient is not carrying a child before making the prescription. If tests are not performed to cancel out the threat of harm to a fetus, the failure can put the fetus in dire risk of a birth injury or defect.
However, most birth injuries are suffered in the delivery room.
Whenever a delivery is complicated by an obstructed birth canal or some other issue, doctors frequently use extraction devices to assist in the baby's delivery. However, those techniques can prove to be more harmful than good or can cause a severe birth injury in order to bring the labor process through to its completion. If the doctor's use of an assisted delivery technique was negligent or poorly done, it can amount to medical malpractice if it caused an injury to the newborn.
Delivery room birth injuries, however, can be avoided if doctors take reasonable precautions to reduce the fetal distress. If the doctor fails to take these steps, it can amount to medical malpractice that can make them liable for any birth injuries that end up happening.
This was the case in a recent lawsuit that Gilman & Bedigian filed against Johns Hopkins Hospital on behalf of a child and his parents. The boy was born with Cerebral Palsy and other developmental delays after doctors there ignored sure signs of fetal distress for two hours before performing a C-section. If the C-section had been timely performed, the baby would likely not have suffered a severe and permanent injury.
When Johns Hopkins refused to settle the case and insisted that they had done nothing wrong, the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian took the case to trial and won a record-setting $55 million verdict for a birth injury case in Maryland.
Compensation for Victims in Indiana
By filing a medical malpractice claim after a birth injury, the victim and his or her family can seek the compensation that they need and deserve after such a terrible medical setback. In Indiana, that compensation aims to cover the victim's losses and other foreseeable repercussions. It includes financial coverage for:
- Medical bills that have already been paid;
- Medical expenses stemming from the birth injury likely to accrue in the future;
- The child's inability to earn a living once they grow up;
- Physical pain and suffering of the child;
- The child's mental anguish and emotional distress, including their loss of life's enjoyments; and
- The family's loss of companionship and the emotional strain of watching their child grow up with a debilitating medical condition.
Unfortunately, Indiana is one of the states in the United States that has a statute that expressly limits the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a medical malpractice claim, including one for a birth injury. To make matters worse, Indiana's damage capping statute, Indiana Code 34-18-14-3, is one of the strictest in the country. Unlike other damage caps, Indiana's cap limits the total compensation recoverable in a medical malpractice suit, rather than just the compensation available for pain and suffering. Under the statute, the limitation depends on when the birth injury occurred.
Before July 1, 2017
Between June 30, 2017 and July 1, 2019
After June 30, 2019
For victims of a birth injury who need this compensation to last for the rest of their life, the maximum amount recoverable is far below what they usually deserve.
Statute of Limitations for Birth Injury Cases in Indiana
Birth injury cases have to be filed within a certain period of time in order to comply with Indiana's statute of limitations. That statute is Indiana Code 34-18-7-1 and requires lawsuits by parents on behalf of their hurt children to be filed within two years. Children filing without their parents' representation, though, have until their eighth birthday to file their claim.
Infant Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The worst birth injuries that newborns can suffer in Indiana are fatal ones. The most common medical conditions that lead to the death of an infant or the stillbirth of an unborn child are:
- A traumatic injury
- Hypoxia, or the complete deprivation of oxygen
- Blood flow issues
Traumatic injuries are most likely to happen during the child's delivery. Severe ones can be fatal, like:
- Fractured skull
- Spinal cord injuries
- Hemorrhaging, particularly in the child's brain
Oxygen deprivation can also be fatal if it is complete or nearly complete and lasts for more than a few seconds. Known as hypoxia, complete oxygen deprivation can lead to brain damage that can be severe enough to be fatal. It can also compromise other tissues, including necessary organs like the heart or lungs. Even if the child is breathing, they can still suffer oxygen deprivation if their blood flow is cut off. The brain is at a particularly high risk for blood flow problems. If the umbilical cord is wrapped too tightly around the child's neck, it can cut off circulation to the child's brain, preventing blood flow from bringing oxygen to the brain and leading to a potentially fatal case of hypoxia.
Indiana is one of about a dozen states in the U.S. to outline how wrongful death cases work when the victim was a fetus or unborn child. Indiana Code § 34-23-2-1 lets the parents of a child who has been killed by someone else's negligence pursue a wrongful death claim on the child's behalf. This includes medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. According to the statute, parents can pursue a wrongful death case on behalf of a viable fetus, as well. This means that the unborn child must have been able to live outside the mother's womb at the time of the birth injury.
Products Liability Lawsuits for Defective Medical Devices
In some cases, a newborn child's birth injuries can be caused by a defective medical device. While these cases are rare, they can still happen in Indiana.
Doctors use numerous medical devices during a childbirth procedure, especially if it requires a C-section. Some of the most well-known medical devices and equipment include:
- An epidural shot for the mother
- Oxytocin to dilate the mother's cervix
- Forceps, to reorient the fetus before it enters the birth canal
- Extraction devices, to assist in the delivery if the baby gets stuck
- Personal protective equipment for the doctors and nurses, like gloves and masks
The more complex devices can suffer from any of the following defects:
- A defective design, where the device was made in a way that was needlessly unsafe
- Defective manufacturing, where the product was not made according to the intended design
- A failure to warn the doctor about hidden dangers in using the device
Any of these defects can put the newborn child and his or her mother at serious risk of a birth injury, and through no fault at all of the doctor and the other healthcare professionals conducting the delivery procedure. Because the doctor would not have been at fault for the birth injury, holding them accountable through a medical malpractice lawsuit and making them pay compensation to the victims would be unfair.
Instead, in these cases, the appropriate lawsuit is a products liability claim. It can be filed against the companies behind the design and manufacture of the medical device that proved to be defective and was the case of the child's birth injuries. This lawsuit argues that the companies should be held responsible for their poor conduct, and aims to make them pay the compensation that the victims deserve.
Gilman & Bedigian: Compassionate and Aggressive Birth Injury Lawyers in Indiana
If you or your child has suffered a birth injury in Indiana, you can reach out to the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian for legal representation by contacting us online.