When doctors commit medical malpractice and the victim is a newborn baby, the result is a birth injury. There are a lot of medical conditions that this can cause, though many of them are severe enough to be a significant obstacle in the child's life.
Because there was nothing that the child or his or her parents could have done to prevent the birth injury, they deserve to be compensated by the doctor whose negligence caused their pain. The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can guide victims of malpractice in Michigan through the process of filing a birth injury claim and help them demand the compensation that they need and deserve.
Birth Injuries: Medical Malpractice That Hurts Newborns in Michigan
A birth injury is any medical condition that affects a newborn child and that was caused by a doctor's bad decision, negligence, or poor action. Because the child was hurt through no fault of its own, they deserve to be compensated. Because the doctor's poor conduct was the cause of the accident that hurt the child – and because the doctor's medical institution is legally responsible for the negligence of its employees – they should be held accountable and liable for the damage that they have done.
That damage can be extremely severe. It can alter the course of the child's life and can even end it early.
Examples of Michigan Birth Injuries
Birth injuries encapsulate a wide variety of medical conditions that a newborn can suffer. Some of the most common and some of the most severe include:
- Erb's Palsy
- Cerebral Palsy
- Facial paralysis
- Shoulder dystocia, which can cause oxygen deprivation
- Diabetic retinopathy, which can lead to vision loss
- Brain bleeds, or hemorrhages, which can be either intracranial or subconjunctival
The source of many of the worst birth injuries, though, is oxygen deprivation. Without an adequate and continuous supply of oxygen – first through the umbilical cord and then, once born, when they inhale and exhale – unborn babies and then newborns can suffer brain damage that leads to developmental delays if the problem is not fixed. In many cases, oxygen deprivation is caused by shoulder dystocia, a condition during the delivery where the baby's shoulder causes it to get stuck in the birth canal and pinch closed the umbilical cord. When the lack of oxygen gets severe enough to cause physical problems, it becomes perinatal asphyxia.
Causes of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries are often caused by either:
- The medical malpractice of a healthcare provider, or
- Problems with the child's genes
When the problem was caused by a doctor's malpractice, the victim should be compensated. Even when it was caused by genetics, though, a doctor may have still committed malpractice and be held liable.
How Malpractice Can Cause a Birth Injury
Whenever a doctor behaves negligently, he or she can provide a substandard level of medical care that does more harm than good. Examples of this happening and causing a birth injury include:
- Prescribing drugs to a pregnant woman that could harm the development of her unborn child
- Hurting a fetus during an internal procedure on a pregnant woman
- Failing to detect signs of fetal distress
- Not reacting appropriately when signs of fetal distress are detected
- Using so much force in an assisted delivery that it causes a birth injury to the child
- Negligently performing a C-section
These acts of negligence can amount to malpractice and make the doctor and their hospital liable for the results, even if they did not directly cause the birth injury. Many birth injuries have an intervening medical condition between the malpractice and the injury. For example, a doctor's malpractice can lead to oxygen deprivation, which then leads to a child being born with Cerebral Palsy. Just because the malpractice caused a medical condition that then led to the birth injury does not absolve the negligent doctor.
Genetics Can Also Cause Birth Injuries
Genetic abnormalities can also lead to a birth injury. Many of these defects, however, are easily detectable early in the pregnancy. If a doctor does not take the appropriate steps to discover a genetic issue, it can deprive the parents of the ability to make an informed decision and can amount to medical malpractice.
Defective Medical Equipment and Birth Injuries
A rare, but still existent, cause of birth injuries is a defective medical device.
Doctors use lots of medical equipment during childbirth. When the child is delivered via C-section, the amount increases even more. Some of the most common and obvious types of medical gear used during the delivery of a child are:
- Forceps, to reposition the fetus at the beginning of the birth canal
- Vacuum extraction device systems, to help the newborn through the end of the birth canal
- Oxytocin and epidural drugs for the mother, to alleviate her pain and dilate her cervix
- Sponges and towels
- Protective gear for the doctors and nurses, like gowns, gloves, and masks
Doctors and healthcare professionals rely heavily on these medical devices and equipment. If any one of these pieces of gear is defective, it can throw the delivery process into turmoil or directly cause a birth injury.
Medical devices can be defective in the same three ways that other products can be defective:
- Design defects are problems with how the medical device was supposed to be made, putting patients at unnecessary risk of injury
- Manufacturing defects are assembly errors that result in a medical device that does not match the intended design and that increases the risk of injury to patients
- Advertising defects fail to warn doctors of the potential risks of using a medical device in the way that it was intended to be used, preventing doctors from avoiding potentially dangerous situations with their patients
Additionally, medical devices can also be defectively packaged and shipped if they were supposed to be sterilized. Negligent shipping can lead to the device getting contaminated and creating an infection and a birth injury.
In these cases, the parents and the victim can recover compensation through a products liability claim.
Symptoms of a Birth Injury
The symptoms of a birth injury will depend on the nature of the injury, itself.
Some of the worst neurological birth injuries tend not to present any symptoms at all until several months have passed since the child's birth. In these cases, the most reliable symptoms that the child has been hurt are the developmental delays that occur as the child misses important growth milestones and fall behind their peers. While it is not uncommon for a child to be late grasping one or two of the growth milestones that doctors recognize, when a child is late to learn many or all of them, it is a symptom that something is wrong.
Thankfully, other birth injuries have symptoms that appear more quickly, in some cases right after the child's birth. However, not all of these symptoms are clear indications that medical malpractice caused a birth injury.
Some of the most common and telling symptoms of a birth injury include:
- Broken bones
- Fractured skull
- Dislocated shoulder
- Swelling or bruising
- Paralyzed muscles, usually in the face, neck, arms, or hands
- Breathing problems that require a breathing tube
Less telling, but perhaps more common, symptoms of a potential birth injury are:
- Eating problems
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulties swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breathing issues, wheezing, and coughing
- Sensory issues, like hearing or vision loss
- Crying with an arched back
- Strange eye movements, an indication of neurological problems or seizures
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage
When several of these symptoms are present, it may be a sign that the child suffered a birth injury. However, it may be a sign of something completely different, or even nothing at all. Seeing a pediatrician who is unaffiliated with the hospital can be the best way to get an independent diagnosis and find out for sure.
Birth Injuries Can Happen During the Pregnancy or the Delivery
A birth injury can happen at any point during the mother's pregnancy, in addition to inside the delivery room.
While the fetus is still developing in the mother's uterus, it can suffer a birth injury if a doctor prescribes the mother medication that would harm the fetus' development. If the doctor does not make sure that a female patient is not pregnant before prescribing her a potentially harmful medication, it can amount to medical malpractice.
However, it is during the delivery that most birth injuries tend to happen in Michigan. Doctors who use assisted delivery techniques and extraction devices can end up causing more harm than good. Rather than easing the delivery along and bringing the child into the world, they can saddle the baby with a birth injury by using too much force.
Doctors can also commit malpractice and be liable for a birth injury for inaction, as well. That is what happened to a family that the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian recently represented. The mother went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to deliver a baby boy. Doctors there ignored clear signs of fetal distress, though, and waited two hours before performing a C-section that should have been done immediately. The boy was born with Cerebral Palsy and mental and physical defects because of the amount of time he was deprived of oxygen.
The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian helped the family take their case all the way through trial, winning a Maryland-record $55 million verdict for a birth injury.
Types of Compensation for Birth Injuries in Michigan
In Michigan, birth injury lawsuits are meant to compensate the victims and their families.
A huge part of that compensation comes in the form of economic damages. These are relatively easy to ascertain and can be stated in a dollar amount, like:
- Medical bills
- Cost of future medical care
- The reduction in the child's professional future and ability to earn a living due to their condition
There are also noneconomic damages, though. These are far more difficult to value, and often represent injuries that are not outwardly apparent, like:
- Physical pain
- Physical impairment or disfigurement
- Mental suffering
- Loss of life's enjoyments
- Loss of consortium and the emotional struggle of being a parent and watching a child grow up with a serious birth injury
Birth injury lawsuits pursue compensation for all of these losses.
However, in Michigan, there is a law that caps the amount of compensation that victims can recover in a medical malpractice case for their noneconomic damages. As of 2019, Michigan Compiled Law § 600.1483 limits these types of compensation to only $465,900, no matter how much the victim and his or her family really deserve. This limitation increases to $832,000 in 2019 if the child:
- Permanently loses complete function of at least one limb from either a brain or spinal cord injury
- Loses brain function to the extent that they are incapable of independently making life decisions or living a normal life
- Suffers permanent damage to a reproductive organ that makes it impossible to have children
Fatal Birth Injuries and Infant Wrongful Death
Some birth injuries prove to be fatal. These are most often one of the following types of injury:
- Traumatic injury during the delivery
- Blood flow issues
- Complete oxygen deprivation, also known as hypoxia
Traumatic injuries can be fatal if they severely hurt the child. They often happen during assisted deliveries when the doctor acts negligently and entirely too forcefully for the context. They typically involve injuries to the newborn's head or spine.
Hypoxia can also be fatal if it lasts for more than a few seconds. Without getting the oxygen they need, internal organs, tissue, and the child's brain can deteriorate and stop working. This can happen if the child is unable to breathe for an extended period during the delivery, or if their blood flow gets reduced or completely cut off, preventing oxygen-laden blood from getting where it needs to go. The most common culprit is an umbilical cord that gets wrapped around the child's neck. If it gets tight enough, it can prevent the child from breathing and constricts circulation to the child's brain, resulting in catastrophic and potentially fatal brain damage.
Should this happen to a child in Michigan, the child's parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent doctor and his or her medical institution to recover the compensation they deserve.
Michigan is one of the few states in the U.S. that has a wrongful death statute that explicitly accounts for infant wrongful death cases. Michigan Compiled Law § 600.2992 sets out the process for filing a wrongful death lawsuit and outlines the types of legal damages that the lawsuit can recover for the child's parents. § 600.2992a then explicitly states that the wrongful death lawsuit covers unborn children, even if they were not viable at the time they were hurt.
Statute of Limitations in Michigan
Birth injury lawsuits have to be filed before the statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims has run out. In Michigan, that statute changes, depending on who is filing the lawsuit.
If the parent is filing the claim on their hurt child's behalf – as is usually the case – then Michigan Compiled Law § 600.5805(8) forces the lawsuit to be initiated within two years.
However, if the child is pursuing their own rights without the help of their parents, they benefit from Michigan's tolling statute. Michigan Compiled Law § 600.5851(8) lets minors who have suffered a birth injury file their claims at any time before they turn 10 years old.
Birth Injury Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian Serve Michigan
If you or a loved one has been hurt by a doctor's malpractice and suffered a birth injury in Michigan, the birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help. Contact us online to get started on your case today.