Birth injuries are medical conditions whose victim is a newborn child. When they are the result of medical malpractice, victims can utilize Maine law to hold a negligent doctor and his or her hospital accountable.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian have built a track record of successes helping victims recover the compensation that they deserve in birth injury lawsuits.
Birth Injuries Leave Innocent Newborns With Serious Medical Conditions
A birth injury is a medical condition that afflicts a newborn baby or a fetus that is still developing in the mother's womb. Because pregnancy is a long and complicated process and ends with the baby's delivery, which can be incredibly traumatic, lots of things can go wrong.
As a result, there are numerous different types of birth injuries that a child can suffer, like:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb's Palsy
- Oxygen deprivation, which can lead to Cerebral Palsy as well as a host of other medical complications and developmental delays
- Perinatal asphyxia, which happens when a baby is deprived of so much oxygen that they suffer physical deformities or disabilities
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging, or blood vessels that have broken in the baby's eye
- Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of the mother's diabetes that, if ignored, can lead to vision loss in the child
- An intracranial or a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or broken blood vessels in the baby's brain
- Facial paralysis, which can cause a newborn to have trouble eating
- Shoulder dystocia, a delivery complication that can lead to oxygen deprivation
Each one of these injuries can be relatively minor or extremely severe. For example, newborns who are deprived of oxygen for only a few minutes can suffer developmental delays that are hardly noticeable. Those that are deprived of oxygen for a substantially longer period of time can suffer irreversible brain damage, Cerebral Palsy, and both mental and physical impairments.
Birth Injuries Can Happen in Utero or in the Delivery Room
Contrary to popular belief, birth injuries do not necessarily have to happen while the baby is being born. They can happen during the pregnancy and even at the earliest stages of the pregnancy.
Doctors can be liable for birth injuries that they cause while the mother is still pregnant if they:
- Harm the fetus during a medical procedure;
- Prescribe drugs to a pregnant woman that can put the fetus in danger; or
- Fail to diagnose clear genetic risks.
However, most birth injuries do happen in the delivery room, often when delivery becomes traumatic or the doctors have to use extraction devices in an assisted delivery. In these situations, doctors have to take appropriate action to keep both the mother and the newborn safe and healthy. They can commit medical malpractice if they act negligently and hurt the baby or if their inaction puts the child in danger.
What Causes a Birth Injury?
A birth injury can be caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. That malpractice can happen at any time during the pregnancy and can happen in a wide variety of ways. The only thing that all incidents of medical malpractice have in common is that a healthcare professional – not necessarily a doctor – behaved unreasonably and failed to provide even a basic standard of care.
This malpractice can cause a birth injury. It can also cause other medical complications that themselves cause a birth injury. In either case, it was the doctor's malpractice that set in motion a chain of events that culminated with a newborn baby being saddled with a serious medical condition that will change the course of his or her life. A doctor's claim that they were not the direct cause of the injuries is not enough to avoid being held responsible for the foreseeable results of their negligence.
Birth injuries can also be caused by genetics. Many birth defects or other medical conditions are passed down from generation to generation. Others are genetic abnormalities that can happen on occasion.
Even when a birth injury is caused by the child's genetics, though, doctors can still commit medical malpractice and be held accountable for the child's plight. Many genetic defects can be discovered early in the pregnancy. When a doctor has reason to look for signs of a genetic defect – like when there is a family history of a serious medical condition or other risk factors are present – it can be medical malpractice to not conduct a genetic test. It can also be malpractice to run a genetic test, and then fail to notify the parents of the results. In either case, it can prevent the parents from making an informed decision about their child's future.
What are the Symptoms of a Birth Injury?
The symptoms of a birth injury will depend on what went wrong and the medical conditions that it has caused. However, symptoms tend to fall into two categories:
- Physical symptoms
- Developmental delays
A birth injury can leave a child with numerous physical symptoms. Some of them are more apparent than others. The most obvious signs that something has gone wrong during the child's birth include:
- The need for a breathing tube after birth
- A lump or dent in the child's head, a sign of a fractured skull
- Broken bones
- Dislocated shoulder
- Muscle paralysis, often in the hands, arms, neck, or face
Other physical symptoms that indicate that a birth injury may have happened, but that are not as strong indications that something went wrong, include:
- Unprovoked and uncontrollable crying, especially if the baby is arching its back
- Eating problems
- Difficulties swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Breathing problems, including coughing and wheezing
- Wild eye movements, which can be a sign of seizures
- Vision loss or lack of hearing
When a newborn presents more than one of these symptoms, it can be important to see a pediatrician who is not affiliated with the hospital that delivered the child. They can provide an unbiased diagnosis.
Some of the worst neurological birth injuries, though, can only be detectable when the child grows up and begins to fall behind his or her peers in their development. When children begin to consistently miss the developmental milestones that doctors expect them to meet as they grow, it can be a strong symptom that they have suffered a birth injury that is holding them back. These developmental delays, however, may not begin to show themselves for up to a year after the child is born.
Infant Wrongful Death Cases in Maine
Birth injuries can even be fatal. These terrible cases typically involve one of the three following medical conditions:
- Traumatic injuries
- Reduced blood flow
Sometimes, traumatic injuries like a fractured skull or a spinal cord injury can be fatal for the newborn victim. These tend to happen during the delivery, rather than in utero. They are also far more common during assisted deliveries when doctors need to take steps to actively help the delivery come to a completion. When they apply too much force to make this happen, though, it can cause a fatal traumatic injury.
Hypoxia, meanwhile, is an instance of complete oxygen deprivation. It can lead to brain or tissue damage that can compromise vital organs. Even if the newborn is breathing, oxygen deprivation can happen if the child's blood flow is reduced or constricted by, for example, their umbilical cord wrapping around their neck.
Unfortunately, Maine's wrongful death law has been very restrictive when the victim was a newborn, and its most recent revision does not seem to have helped victims recover what they deserve.
18-C Maine Revised Statute § 2-807 is the wrongful death statute in Maine. It went into effect in July, 2019, and holds negligent people, including doctors, liable for killing another person. However, the statute § 1-201(39) defines “person” in a way that does not make it clear that unborn children are included. Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, in Shaw v. Jendzejec, has decided that an unborn child – even if it is a viable fetus – is not a “person” under the wrongful death law. This means that the parents of a child who was stillborn because of a prenatal injury that was caused by a doctor's medical malpractice cannot sue the hospital or doctor for their conduct.
While Shaw was decided before the wrongful death statute was revised, the new version of the law does not expressly change anything. This means that children in Maine likely still need to be born alive in order for their parents to be able to file a wrongful death case if they end up dying from a birth injury.
Product Liability Lawsuits for Defective Medical Devices
In some rare cases, the child's birth injury was not actually caused by the medical malpractice of a doctor or other healthcare professional. Instead, it was caused by a defect in one of the medical devices that was used during their delivery. These cases can lead to products liability lawsuits against the company that negligently designed, manufactured, sold, or even shipped the device.
Medical devices can be defectively designed if they needlessly put patients at risk of harm. If, for example, a drug was made that could have had the same benefits without a serious side effect, and there was a way to avoid that side effect through the drug's composition, it could be defectively designed.
Manufacturing defects are errors in the production plant that create differences between the product's design and the end result. Medical devices that are defectively made can break during a procedure like childbirth, harming the patients and causing a birth injury.
Advertising defects are problems with the instructions provided with the medical device. If they fail to warn the doctor of a risk or hazard of using the device, it can keep the doctor in the dark and prevent them from taking action to avoid the risk.
Medical devices that have to be kept sterile can also be defectively packaged or shipped. If the device gets contaminated between the manufacturing plant and the hospital, where it is then used to deliver a child, it can lead to a serious infection that causes a birth injury and harms the mother.
These defects can compromise any of the numerous medical devices that are commonly used during childbirth. When they cause the birth injury, the doctor should not be held accountable because they did nothing wrong. Instead, the problem lies with one of the companies that produced the medical device. They should be made to compensate the victims.
Gilman & Bedigian's $55 Million Verdict for Birth Injury Victim
An example of a birth injury that led to a lawsuit is a recent claim that the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian pursued on behalf of a client and his family for a birth injury in Maryland.
In that case, an expectant mother went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to deliver a baby boy. However, strong signs of fetal distress went ignored by the doctors. Rather than taking immediate action to relieve that stress, doctors waited two hours before performing a C-section. By that time, the baby had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and other disabilities.
With the help of the birth injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, the boy and his family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Johns Hopkins and the doctors who were negligent. When the hospital refused to admit fault, the case went all the way through trial. After hearing the evidence from both sides, the jury awarded the victim a $55 million verdict – a record for a birth injury case in Maryland.
Compensation for Victims in Maine
Birth injury victims in Maine deserve to be compensated for all of their losses – physical, emotional, and even financial – that stem from the doctor's negligence. Additionally, the victim's family deserves to recover compensation for the difficulties they have had to endure, as well.
That compensation should cover:
- The costs of medical expenses that have already been paid
- Medical expenses that are likely to accrue for ongoing care
- Home modifications for any mobility issues that the victim will suffer
- Vocational care and training, like occupational therapy
- Reductions to the child's earning potential, once they grow up and enter the workforce
- The child's physical pain
- The child's emotional distress and mental anguish, including their inability to enjoy life to the fullest
- The family's loss of companionship and the emotional trauma they experience as they watch their child grow up with a severe medical condition
In Maine, the victims of birth injuries can recover all of the compensation that they deserve. This makes victims in Maine different from those in many other states, which have statutes that expressly limit how much compensation can be recovered in birth injury and other medical malpractice lawsuits.
Statute of Limitations in Maine for Birth Injuries
Birth injury lawsuits in Maine have to comply with the state's statute of limitations, found at 24 Maine Revised Code § 2902. This statute distinguishes between lawsuits filed by the child victim and those filed by the victim's parents on the child's behalf:
- Lawsuits filed by the parents on the hurt child's behalf have to be filed within three years of the birth injury; and
- Lawsuits filed by the child without the parents' representation have to be filed within six years of the injury.
If these time periods have elapsed before the birth injury lawsuit is filed, the hospital and the negligent doctor can have it quickly dismissed.
Gilman & Bedigian: Aggressive and Compassionate Birth Injury Lawyers in Maine
If your child was born with a birth injury, you may be entitled to compensation if a doctor's negligence caused it. Reach out to the birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian in Maine by contacting them online.