When a doctor commits medical malpractice and hurts a newborn baby or an unborn fetus, the result is referred to as a birth injury. These are a special kind of medical malpractice and personal injury claim because the damages are often devastating and will be an obstacle for the victim for the rest of his or her life.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian have established a track record of success representing victims of birth injuries and their families. Victims in Minnesota can rely on them for the legal representation they need to overcome their injuries by recovering the compensation they need and deserve.
Birth Injuries Saddle Newborns With Life-Long Disabilities
A birth injury is any medical condition that was caused by a doctor's malpractice or negligence and that hurts a newborn. This covers a broad range of injuries, though each one of them can lead to serious disabilities that are debilitating to the victim over the long term.
Some examples of birth injuries that a newborn can suffer include:
- Cerebral Palsy or Erb's Palsy
- Facial paralysis, a condition that can lead to numerous other medical complications as the newborn can have trouble nursing or closing its eyes
- Diabetic retinopathy, which can cause the child to lose his or her vision
- Intracranial or subconjunctival hemorrhages
- Shoulder dystocia
- Perinatal asphyxia
Many of these medical conditions are triggered by a period of oxygen deprivation during the baby's delivery. Without a constant source of oxygen, the newborn's body and brain can stop developing and can even regress. If the oxygen deprivation lasts long enough, it can lead to developmental delays and even brain damage.
Because these injuries are suffered through no fault of the child or his or her parents, the doctors whose negligence caused it should be held accountable.
Causes of Birth Injuries
A birth injury is usually caused by one of two things:
- Malpractice, or
In either case, though, a doctor may be held liable for the results.
A doctor or other healthcare professional can cause a birth injury through their medical malpractice. This can happen whenever they act negligently and provide a substandard level of medical care to either the mother or the newborn.
Obviously, this can happen in a huge number of situations. However, some of the most common include:
- Neglecting the mother during labor
- Using too much force during an assisted delivery
- Prescribing a woman medication that could harm a fetus without first making sure she was not pregnant
- Harming a fetus during an internal procedure on the mother
- Negligently performing a Cesarean section procedure to deliver a baby
- Making unreasonable decisions during the labor and the delivery that put the mother and child at risk
These negligent acts or omissions can directly cause a birth injury. They can also cause a medical condition that then leads to a birth injury. Regardless of whether the malpractice was the immediate cause of the birth injury or only an indirect one, the negligent healthcare professional can be held liable.
Genetics can also cause a birth injury or defect. However, many genetic disorders are easily discoverable early in the pregnancy, and doctors should take reasonably necessary steps to find out if a fetus is developing properly or will likely be born with a serious medical condition. If a doctor does not take these steps, it can deprive the child's parents of the ability to make an informed healthcare decision. This can amount to medical malpractice and make the doctor and their medical institution liable.
Defective Medical Equipment
Occasionally, birth injuries are caused by a defective piece of medical equipment or a defective device.
All products can be defective in three ways:
- Defective designs create products that carry needless risk or that could have reasonably been designed in a safer way
- Manufacturing defects create products that do not comport with the intended design, resulting in individual products that can break or not function properly
- Advertising defects lead to inadequate instructions that fail to warn users of hidden or inconspicuous risks of using the product in its intended way
Medical devices can also be defective in a fourth way: They can be defectively packaged and shipped if they are supposed to be sterilized after production, but are packed in a negligent way that contaminates them with harmful bacteria.
Any one of these defects can affect any of the medical devices and other equipment that doctors use during the delivery of a child. Even in normal deliveries, the number of medical devices used is substantial. When the child is delivered by C-section, it rises drastically. Some of the most common devices used to deliver a newborn child include:
- Vacuum extraction devices
- Drugs for the mother, like an epidural shot or Oxytocin
- Towels and sponges
- Protective gear for the doctors and nurses
If any of these pieces of equipment or medical devices are defective, it can cause a birth injury. However, the doctor wielding the tool that was defective would not necessarily be acting negligently - there was little that they could have done to prevent the accident and it can be unreasonable for them to anticipate and protect against defective equipment. Instead, the fault lies with the company that produced a defective product. They can be held accountable with a products liability lawsuit, rather than one grounded in medical malpractice.
The symptoms of a birth injury depend on the medical condition that was caused by the doctor's malpractice. However, some of the most common physical birth injuries that a child can suffer will have some of the following symptoms right after the child has been born:
- Dislocated shoulder
- Broken bones
- Fractured skull
- Bruising or swelling
- Muscle paralysis, sometimes partial and sometimes total, and often in the face, hands, neck, or arms
Not all birth injuries are physical, though. Some are mental or neurological. These can come with less apparent symptoms, like:
- Vision problems
- Difficulties hearing
- Chronic pain
- Eating problems
- Erratic eye movements, often a sign that the child is having a seizure
- Coughing or wheezing
- Crying while the baby is arching its back
- Inconsolable fussiness
These symptoms can be a sign of a birth injury, but may also be a symptom of another medical condition. In some cases, there is nothing wrong. Seeing a pediatrician is the best way to get a diagnosis and find out what is wrong. Seeing a doctor who is unaffiliated with the hospital that delivered the baby can ensure that you get an independent opinion.
Still other neurological birth injuries do not have any symptoms until the child is several months old. In these cases, the most reliable symptoms can be the child's developmental delays.
Developmental delays happen when a child fails to reach a stage of growth that doctors expect them to reach at a certain age. For example, there are set ages where doctors expect children to begin to crawl, walk, and speak coherently. If a child is a little late on one of these developmental milestones, it is not a big deal. However, if they are constantly late, it can be a sign that they suffered a birth injury that is holding them back.
Birth Injuries in Minnesota's Delivery Rooms
The delivery room is the place where most birth injuries occur. Delivering a baby is a traumatic and difficult process. If reasonable steps are not taken, it can also be an extremely dangerous one, both for the mother and the child.
The risk of a birth injury is at its highest whenever the labor is prolonged or the delivery encounters difficulties or other obstacles. Doctors facing these situations often turn to extraction devices to assist in the delivery. However, if they are not careful using these assisted delivery techniques, they can cause more harm than good.
Avoiding these difficult situations is essential, and doctors have a wide variety of methods to do so. If they fail to take reasonable steps as a precaution and the delivery becomes traumatic and leads to an injury, it can amount to malpractice and they can be held liable.
This is what happened to one of Gilman & Bedigian's clients in Maryland. An expectant mother went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to give birth to a baby boy. However, the doctors there did not notice, or else ignored, sure signs that the fetus was in distress. Rather than performing a C-section right away, they waited for two hours. By then, the boy had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and other medical conditions.
With the legal help of the birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian, the victim and his family sued the hospital and the doctors there, winning a state record-setting $55 million verdict.
Birth Injuries Can Also Happen Before the Baby is Born
While most birth injuries happen in the delivery room, they can also happen while the baby is still in utero. These congenital birth injuries can be the result of a doctor's medical malpractice if, for example, the doctor:
- Failed to perform a genetic test that would have discovered a high risk of a birth defect
- Prescribed a pregnant woman medication that would hurt the fetus she was carrying
Just because the conduct happened before birth does not mean that it cannot produce a birth injury.
Compensation for Victims of Birth Injuries in Minnesota
Medical malpractice victims, including children who have suffered a birth injury and their parents, have a right to receive compensation from the responsible party in Minnesota. This entitlement includes compensation for all of the foreseeable repercussions of the birth injury, not just the medical bills that have already had to be paid. In addition to those medical expenses, victims can recover compensation for:
- Reasonably anticipated medical expenses for future care for the birth injury and its medical complications
- The child's loss of earning capacity as he or she will struggle to earn the standard of living they would have been able to in their adult life
- The child's physical pain, mental suffering, and loss of life's enjoyments
- The family's loss of companionship stemming from watching their child grow up with a debilitating birth injury
Unlike many other states, Minnesota does not cap the amount of compensation that victims can recover in a successful birth injury lawsuit. This means victims can recover what a jury thinks they deserve for their losses.
What if the Infant Dies?
Birth injuries can be severe enough that they prove to be fatal. This can happen in 3 ways:
- The injury is suffered in utero and results in a stillbirth
- The injury is suffered in utero, the baby is born alive, but dies soon after birth
- The injury is suffered during the delivery and the baby dies soon after birth
In Minnesota, the timing of the birth injury matters.
Victims who are killed by someone else's negligence, including the medical malpractice of a doctor, endow their closest relatives with legal rights to sue the wrongdoer on the victim's behalf. These are wrongful death claims and are governed by Minnesota Statute § 573.02. They allow parents or other relatives to file the lawsuit that the victim would have been able to file, had they survived the incident.
However, the Minnesota courts have long held that, in order to be protected by the wrongful death statute, a fetus must have been viable at the time of his or her injuries. That rule comes from the 1949 case Verkennes v. Corniea. Viability means that the fetus would have been able to survive outside the mother's womb at the time of the prenatal injuries.
The birth injuries that can be fatal include:
- Especially traumatic injuries
- Circulation problems
Traumatic injuries that can cause a fatal birth injury include severe physical injuries, like a fractured skull or a broken spinal cord. Hypoxia is the complete deprivation of oxygen that can lead to tissue, organ, or brain damage if it is not corrected in a short amount of time. Circulation issues can also lead to brain or other tissue damage as the blood is prevented from bringing oxygen to the organs that need it.
Minnesota's Statute of Limitations
All birth injury claims in the state have to abide by Minnesota's statute of limitations. If the period of time provided by the statute of limitations expires before the lawsuit is filed, a court will dismiss it without looking at it.
In Minnesota, the statute of limitations depends on whether the parents of the hurt child are filing the claim on the child's behalf, or whether the child is pursuing their own compensation.
When a parent sues on the child's behalf, Minnesota Statute § 541.076 requires the claim to be filed within four years. However, if the child is the one filing the lawsuit, then the statute of limitations gets tolled or delayed under Minnesota Statute § 541.15 for seven years.
Compassionate and Aggressive Birth Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
The birth injury lawyers at the law office of Gilman & Bedigian legally represent victims of birth injuries and their families in Minnesota. Contact us online to get started on your case today.