A birth injury is a serious medical condition suffered by a newborn baby. When that condition was the result of a doctor's medical malpractice in Louisiana, the afflicted child and his or her family deserve to be compensated by the negligent doctor and the hospital that employs them.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims in Louisiana collect that compensation by guiding them through the process of filing a medical malpractice claim and demanding the financial coverage that they are entitled to receive.
What are Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries are medical problems that a newborn baby is born with. Because the birth process – stretching from the beginning of the pregnancy and culminating in the child's birth – is a long and complicated one, lots of things can go wrong and end with the child getting hurt.
Many birth injuries are the result of a doctor's poor conduct or decision-making. Some of these are the result of a doctor's negligence during the delivery procedure, as the doctor does something that ends up hurting the baby, like incorrectly using an extraction device. Other cases involve a doctor's inaction, where they should have done something to prevent a birth injury but failed to do so. In either case, it can amount to malpractice.
Some birth injuries are genetic. These lead to birth defects that might not necessarily have been the fault of a doctor's conduct. Even in these cases, though, it can still amount to malpractice.
How Can a Louisiana Doctor's Malpractice Cause a Birth Injury?
A doctor can commit medical malpractice and cause a birth injury during the mother's pregnancy or in the delivery room.
Malpractice during the pregnancy can take a wide variety of forms, including:
- Prescribing a pregnant woman drugs or medication that puts her fetus at risk of developing an abnormality while in utero
- Negligently performing a medical procedure on the mother, harming the fetus
- Failing to diagnose and communicate genetic risks to the parents
Even if the birth injury was ultimately caused by a genetic defect, a doctor can still be held liable for malpractice if they easily could have discovered the risks, or if they knew about the risks but did not adequately disclose them to the parents. In these cases, the doctor's poor conduct would have deprived the parents of the ability to make an informed decision about their child.
Malpractice during the baby's delivery is more common, though. This is where a doctor's decisions can put a mother and her child at risk of enduring even more trauma than is normal while delivering a baby.
For example, a doctor can commit medical malpractice and cause a birth injury by:
- Not monitoring an expectant mother
- Failing to notice signs of fetal distress
- Not reacting to signs of fetal distress in a reasonable fashion
- Using too much force during an assisted delivery and hurting the child
- Botching a Cesarean section procedure
Many of these mistakes and negligent acts will directly cause a birth injury. However, they can also cause a medical complication that itself leads to the birth injury. For example, a doctor's poor decision making in the delivery room can leave a baby in distress for so long that it leads to a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation. While that oxygen deprivation is not a serious birth injury, itself, it will likely lead to a whole host of medical complications that can be considered a birth injury. Just because the doctor's malpractice only caused an intervening medical condition, rather than the actual birth injury, itself, does not mean that they were not responsible for the end result.
Even when the doctor's conduct was not the immediate cause of the birth injury, it can still be malpractice and the doctor can still be held liable. After all, their conduct set in motion the chain of events that foreseeably led to the child's injuries.
Defective Medical Equipment and Birth Injuries
A less common, but still possible, cause of a child's birth injury is a defective medical device. If a device breaks or was defective to begin with, then the doctor who was using it at the time it caused a birth injury would not be the one responsible. Instead, it would be the fault of the company behind the device. They can be held accountable and made to compensate the victims through a products liability lawsuit.
The childbirth process requires numerous medical devices, even if the baby is not delivered via C-section. Doctors and nurses use things like:
- Extraction devices, like a vacuum delivery system or forceps
- Protective gear, like masks and gloves
- Drugs like Oxytocin
These devices and medical gear can be defective in several ways.
If it has to be sterile when used – like most medical equipment – a medical device can be negligently or defectively packaged or shipped if it gets contaminated with harmful bacteria on the way from the manufacturing plant to the hospital. If it has been contaminated with bacteria and is then used during childbirth, the device can cause a serious infection and a birth injury.
Medical devices can also be defectively designed if they are supposed to be made in a way that needlessly puts patients at risk. Even if the design is correct, manufacturing defects can create discrepancies between the design and the finished product that put patients at risk, too.
Perhaps most common, though, is an advertising defect that fails to warn doctors about the risks of using a particular medical device. This can keep the doctor from taking appropriate precautions to protect their patients from harm.
The common theme in all of these situations is that the doctor was not ultimately responsible for the birth injury. Instead, it was the company who designed, made, or sold the device the doctor used.
Different Kinds of Birth Injuries
Not all birth injuries are the same, though. Some are extremely debilitating while others are relatively minor. Even when the injury is the same, the results can be trivial, severe, or life-threatening.
Some of the most common birth injuries include:
- Broken blood vessels, whether they are in the child's eye (a subconjunctival hemorrhage) or in their brain (an intracranial or subarachnoid hemorrhage)
- Oxygen deprivation, a medical problem that can cause or contribute to other birth injuries
- Perinatal asphyxia, or physical impairments caused by oxygen deprivation
- Shoulder dystocia, which is a birth obstruction where the baby's shoulder gets caught in the birth canal and compresses the umbilical cord to the point where they are deprived of oxygen
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Diabetic retinopathy, a side effect of the mother's diabetes which can lead to vision loss in the newborn if precautions are not taken
- Facial paralysis, where the muscles in a baby's face cannot move, making it difficult for them to eat, nurse, or even close their eyes
Common Symptoms of Birth Injuries
Obviously, different birth injuries will have different symptoms. However, some of the symptoms will be clearer than others.
Among the most obvious symptoms that a child has suffered a birth injury are:
- Fractured skull, often detected from a dent or lump in the baby's head
- Seizures, which can be a sign of a fractured skull
- Erratic or strange eye movements, a sign of a seizure or fractured skull
- Broken bones
- Dislocated shoulders
- Paralyzed muscles, often in the face, neck, arms, or hands
- Severe breathing problems that require a breathing tube right after birth
Other symptoms are vague, though they still serve as a sign that something may have happened and that the child may have suffered a birth injury:
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging in the baby's eye, a sign that the pressure exerted on the baby's skull during delivery was extreme
- Crying with an arched back, a sign of severe pain
- Vision or hearing loss
- Breathing issues, including constant wheezing or coughing
- Eating problems, including difficulties swallowing, constipation, nausea, or vomiting
If a child has one or several of these vague symptoms, it may be wise to see a pediatrician who works independently of the hospital that delivered the child. They can provide an expert and unbiased diagnosis.
Neurological birth injuries are some of the most debilitating that a child can suffer. They are also the most difficult to detect because the symptoms do not become apparent for months or years after the injury. The most reliable symptoms of these birth injuries is when a child struggles to meet the developmental milestones that doctors expect children to meet as they grow up. It can take a year, though, for a child to fall far enough behind his or her peers for it to become apparent that something is wrong.
Compensation for Victims of Birth Injuries in Louisiana
When medical conditions like this are caused by a doctor's malpractice, victims can recover compensation for their losses. For children who have been hurt by a doctor's malpractice, that compensation is meant to cover:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses for ongoing care
- The costs of specialized medical equipment, like the necessary wheelchairs and handicap accessible vans
- Home modifications
- Reduced earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress for any disfigurements
- Loss of life's enjoyments due to disabilities caused by the birth injury
Additionally, the parents of the victim can recover compensation for their loss of companionship and their emotional distress from watching their child grow up with a serious medical condition.
Louisiana Caps the Amount of Compensation a Victim Can Recover
Unfortunately, Louisiana is one of the many states in the U.S. that explicitly limits the amount of compensation that a victim of medical malpractice can recover, no matter how much they really deserve. Louisiana Revised Statute § 40:1231.2(B)(1) caps the amount of compensation that victims can recover in a medical malpractice case – including birth injury claims – to $500,000.
While this limitation does not include the costs of medical care that will be needed in the future, it can leave birth injury victims – who will have to live with the repercussions of a doctor's malpractice for their entire lives – under-compensated.
Infant Wrongful Death Cases in Louisiana
There are some birth injuries that prove to be fatal. These tragic cases often involve one of the following types of birth injury:
- Traumatic physical injuries
- Reduced blood flow or circulation
When doctors assist in a delivery, they can use so much force that the child ends up getting hurt during the process. In some cases, those injuries are severe, life-threatening, or even fatal. For example, if a doctor fractures a child's skull or breaks the child's spine, it can be fatal immediately or can set in motion a series of medical conditions that ends up being fatal after a few days or weeks.
Hypoxia, on the other hand, is a complete deprivation of oxygen that lasts long enough to cause tissue damage. When this affects the child's brain or internal organs, it can be life-threatening. Hypoxia stems from the child's inability to breathe. However, if the child is breathing but their blood flow is reduced or their circulation is restricted, the oxygen in their blood may not get to where it needs to go. This can lead to the same brain damage that hypoxia can cause.
In terrible cases like these, the parents of the child can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent doctor and his or her medical institution. These lawsuits are filed by the relatives of a person who has died at the hands of someone else's negligence. While many other states have wrongful death statutes that do not define what it means to be a “person” whose death provides rights to his or her relatives, Louisiana's wrongful death laws do. Louisiana Civil Code Annotated Article 26 expressly defines unborn children as people for wrongful death purposes, even if they were not viable at the time they were hurt.
Statute of Limitations for Louisiana Birth Injury Claims
Birth injury claims in Louisiana also have to comply with Louisiana Revised Statute § 9:5628, This statute of limitations requires all birth injury lawsuits – whether brought by the parents on behalf of their child, or by the hurt child on their own – within one year of the malpractice.
This is one of the strictest statutes of limitations in the country and forces victims to take immediate action as soon as they realize they have been hurt.
An Example of a Birth Injury Lawsuit: Gilman & Bedigian's $55 Million Verdict
An example of a birth injury lawsuit in action is a recent case brought by the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian.
An expectant mother went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, to deliver a baby boy. The doctors failed to react appropriately to sure signs of fetal distress. Rather than delivering the baby via C-section right away, they waited for two hours. As a result, the boy was born with Cerebral Palsy and other impairments because he had been deprived of oxygen for so long.
The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian legally represented the victim and his family against the doctors and Johns Hopkins Hospital. When the defendants refused to settle or even consider the possibility that they acted inappropriately, the case went to trial. The jury awarded the victims a Maryland record for a birth injury case: A $55 million verdict.
Aggressive and Compassionate Birth Injury Attorneys Serving Louisiana
If your child has been born with a birth injury in Louisiana, contact the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian online soon in order to file your claim before the statute of limitations expires.