When doctors in Iowa commit medical malpractice and hurt a newborn child, the result is often referred to as a birth injury. Because neither the child nor the child's parents were responsible for the incident, they deserve to be compensated for all of the repercussions that they have had to deal with because the doctor acted negligently.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian provide the legal representation that victims of birth injuries in Iowa need to recover compensation.
What is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury is any medical complication that results in harm to a newborn baby.
Those complications can happen during the delivery or while the mother is still pregnant. Those that happen during the pregnancy are suffered by the unborn fetus but still saddle the child with a serious medical problem once they are born.
In many cases, birth injuries are caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. That malpractice can be the result of the doctor's negligence, poor conduct, or unreasonable decision making. If it causes a child to be born with a medical condition, both the doctor and his or her medical institution can be held financially liable for the birth injury.
Types of Birth Injuries in Iowa
Because a birth injury includes any medical condition that hurts a newborn, there are a lot of different kinds of maladies that it includes, like:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Broken blood vessels in the baby's eye (also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage) or in their brain (an intracranial or subarachnoid hemorrhage)
- Diabetic retinopathy, which causes vision loss in newborns
- Facial paralysis
- Shoulder dystocia, a condition that causes oxygen deprivation
- Oxygen deprivation, where the newborn loses his or her oxygen supply for long enough that the cells in their body or brain begin to die, causing developmental delays or perinatal asphyxia
Each one of these medical conditions can be severe or relatively minor. For example, a child deprived of oxygen during birth may hardly even notice the repercussions of a short deprivation. Meanwhile, if the deprivation lasted for multiple hours, the baby may be born with severe defects that will render him or her unable to ever live independently.
Symptoms of Birth Injuries
Sometimes, birth injuries come with very clear and obvious symptoms. Those symptoms are often:
- Broken bones
- Fractured collarbones
- Dislocated shoulders
- Limp, weak, or stationary limbs, often the hands or the arms
- Paralyzed muscles, often in the face and often detectable from asymmetrical facial movements
- Fractured skull, often detectable from a bump or a dent in the child's skull, or from seizures
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging in the baby's eye, which can indicate a traumatic birth and other birth injuries
- Severe breathing problems that require a breathing tube immediately after birth
Other times, though, birth injuries are more difficult to detect because the symptoms are less obvious and can mean a lot of other things. These symptoms include:
- Breathing problems
- Vision loss
- Lack of hearing
- Chronic pain, often indicated when the baby cries inconsolably while arching its back
- Eating problems
- Difficulties swallowing
- Excessive and constant drooling
- Strange or erratic eye movements, which can be a sign of neurological problems or minor seizures
- Excessive fatigue
- Problems with coordination
- Excessive fussiness
- Unprovoked crying
While these symptoms may indicate other health problems or even nothing at all, it is important to see a pediatrician who is independent of the hospital that delivered the baby to get an unbiased diagnosis.
In some cases, though, the symptoms of a child's birth injury do not present themselves for months or years after birth. This is especially common for neurological problems, where the only symptoms are developmental delays that cause the child to miss important growth milestones. These milestones are used by doctors to gauge the child's growth against expectations and their peers. When a child continually falls behind these milestones, it can be a sign that something is wrong and that the child suffered a serious birth injury.
Causes of Birth Injuries in Iowa
Birth injuries can be caused by a doctor's medical malpractice, either in the delivery room or earlier in the pregnancy. They can also be caused by the medical complications that are the direct result of the doctor's malpractice. In any of these cases, the victim and their family can hold the doctor and their medical institution or hospital liable for the results.
Medical malpractice can directly lead to a birth injury in lots of different situations. Some of the most common include:
- A botched Cesarean section procedure
- A poorly administered epidural
- Prescribing drugs to a mother that could harm her unborn fetus
- Physically harming a fetus during an internal procedure
- Not noticing or failing to react appropriately to signs of fetal distress
- Not conducting a genetic test or failing to inform the parents of the risks of a genetic defect in a child
- Using too much force during an assisted delivery and hurting the child
Each of these incidents of medical malpractice can cause a birth injury. However, each of them can also indirectly cause other birth injuries, some of which are even more severe than the direct results of the malpractice.
Oxygen deprivation is one example of a medical condition that can lead to numerous other birth injuries because of the damage that it can cause in the newborn's brain and muscle tissue.
Just because the doctor's medical malpractice was not the direct or immediate cause of the birth injury does not mean they should not be held accountable. When they set in motion the chain of cause and effect that ends with a newborn suffering devastating birth injuries that will set them back in life, they should compensate the victim for the harm that they have caused.
When Do Birth Injuries Happen in Iowa?
These birth injuries can happen at any point during the pregnancy, right through the point where the baby is delivered.
A birth injury can happen early in the pregnancy – even before the mother knows she is pregnant – if a doctor prescribes her medication that could harm the fetus. If a doctor does this without first checking to see if she is pregnant, it can amount to medical malpractice. The birth injury that it causes can be severe and debilitating.
However, birth injuries are far more common in the delivery room. Delivering a baby is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, and doctors can find themselves actively assisting in the delivery using extraction devices. However, if these techniques are improperly performed or negligently done, the newborn can suffer a birth injury from blunt force trauma in the course of being pulled out.
Avoiding extra trauma in the delivery room is one of the things that doctors prioritize when delivering a baby because it can minimize fetal distress. This drastically reduces the likelihood of a traumatic birth and the odds of the child suffering a birth injury.
Compensation Available to Birth Injury Victims in Iowa
Victims of birth injuries – both the child and their parents – suffer extraordinary losses through no fault of their own and all at the hands of a doctor's medical malpractice. The law in Iowa recognizes how unfair this can be, and allows victims to recover compensation by filing a birth injury lawsuit against the negligent doctor and his or her medical institution or hospital.
That compensation is meant to cover both the economic damages as well as the noneconomic damages suffered by the victim and their family.
A victim's economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Costs of future anticipated medical care
- The child's reduced earning capacity due to their medical condition.
Meanwhile, the noneconomic damages suffered by the victim and his or her family include:
- Physical pain
- Mental anguish and suffering
- Loss of life's enjoyments
- Emotional distress, including that which comes from having a disfiguring or disabling medical condition.
However, Iowa recently passed a law that can limit how much compensation victims can recover for their noneconomic damages. This statute, Iowa Code § 147.136A, was signed into law on May 5, 2017, and caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases – including birth injury cases – to a mere $250,000, making it one of the strictest damage capping laws in the country. The only exceptions to the law are if the victim suffers:
- Substantial or permanent loss or impairment of bodily function
- Substantial disfigurement
In many cases, a birth injury will fall into one of these exceptions. Proving that it does is essential to avoid such a strict and arbitrary limitation on what a deserving victim can recover.
Infant Wrongful Death and Survival Cases in Iowa
Some birth injuries prove to be terminal. When these injuries are caused by medical malpractice, they are most often severe cases of:
- Hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation
- Reduced blood flow
- Traumatic injury during delivery
Traumatic injuries can be fatal if they severely harm the child in specific ways. Fractured skulls, broken spinal cords, or severe nerve damage can all be fatal.
Hypoxia can also be fatal if the child is completely deprived of oxygen for a long period of time. This can lead to brain damage or organ failure. Even if the child is breathing, they can suffer oxygen deprivation to certain organs if their blood flow is compromised or completely cut off. This can happen when, for example, the umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby's neck. This can cut off the flow of blood to the brain, depriving the brain of oxygen and potentially leading to a fatal case of brain damage.
Iowa law, though, is a major obstacle for parents of unborn children who have suffered a fatal birth injury.
Iowa wrongful death law is based on survival actions. Survival actions are personal injury claims that the victim would have had, had they survived. Under Iowa Code § 611.20, these legal claims survive the death of the “person” who has suffered them. This makes them different than normal wrongful death lawsuits, which create new legal claims for the family of the victim.
The Supreme Court of Iowa, though, has defined “person” under § 611.20 as someone who has been born alive as early as 1971, in the case McKillip v. Zimmerman. A subsequent case, Weitl v. Moes, made it clear that even viable fetuses are not covered by the survival statute. As a result, in order for the parents of a deceased child to recover compensation for a birth injury in Iowa, the child has to be born alive.
Defective Medical Devices and Birth Injuries
Some birth injuries are not caused by the medical malpractice of the doctor. Some are actually caused by the medical devices or equipment that gets used during the delivery. While these cases happen relatively rarely, when they do happen, it would be unfair to make the doctor pay for the costs of the injuries when it was actually their defective equipment that was the cause of the birth injury.
In Iowa, victims of birth injuries that have been caused by defective medical equipment can file a products liability lawsuit against the company that was responsible for the defect. This lawsuit can claim that the medical device was defective in one of three ways:
- It was defectively designed, needlessly putting people at risk of harm
- It was defectively manufactured, with the device used during the childbirth having a flaw that made it different and more dangerous from the intended design
- There was a failure to warn the doctors who used the device about the potential for harm
If any of these defects caused the birth injury, then the company that negligently allowed the defect to exist should be held accountable and made to compensate the victims of the injury.
In addition to a defective design, manufacture, or warning instructions, medical devices that are used during childbirth procedures can also be defective if they have been improperly packed or shipped. Most medical equipment has to be sterile when it is used. It is manufactured and then sterilized before it is packed and shipped. If the device gets contaminated by dangerous bacteria while it is en route to the hospital, and then it is opened and used during the child's delivery, it can cause a potentially fatal infection to the mother or newborn baby.
Statute of Limitations for Birth Injury Claims in Iowa
In Iowa, victims of birth injuries have to file their claim before the state's statute of limitations, found at Iowa Code § 614.1(9), expires.
For parents who are filing the lawsuit to recover compensation on their child's behalf, that limitation is two years. However, if the child is suing on their own behalf and without the help of their parents, the statute of limitations gets tolled or delayed. Children acting on their own behalf have until their 10th birthday to file a lawsuit.
An Example of a Birth Injury Lawsuit
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian recently helped a victim and his family recover a record-setting $55 million verdict in Maryland.
In that case, an expectant mother went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to deliver a baby. Doctors there failed to react to sure signs of fetal distress, though, and the baby was deprived of oxygen for nearly two hours. When he was born, he had mental and physical impairments and Cerebral Palsy.
Aggressive and Compassionate Birth Injury Attorneys Serving Iowa
If you or your child has been born with a birth injury in Iowa, contact the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian online.