Doctors who commit medical malpractice and hurt a newborn child or an unborn fetus cause a birth injury. Because the disabilities that these injuries tend to produce are extreme, both the victims and their families deserve to be compensated.
The birth injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims in Mississippi pursue what they are entitled to receive. With their help, victims can recover the financial compensation that covers their medical expenses and the other setbacks that were caused by the doctor's malpractice.
What are Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries are medical conditions suffered by newborn or unborn babies. They can happen either during the baby's delivery or while they are still in the womb. Regardless of when they happen, though, they can disable the child with severe mental or physical impairments for the rest of their life. In some cases, they can be fatal after only a few years.
Example of birth injuries in Mississippi include:
- Shoulder dystocia, which can cause oxygen deprivation and all of its attendant medical complications
- Intracranial or subconjunctival hemorrhages, both of which are caused by trauma during the delivery and lead to bleeding inside the baby's skull
- Diabetic retinopathy, a birth injury that can lead to the loss of the child's eyesight
- Erb's Palsy
- Cerebral Palsy
- Facial paralysis, which can lead to other complications as the newborn struggles to move his or her facial muscles to nurse
Many of these medical problems all cause further complications. For example, oxygen deprivation can lead to brain damage and developmental delays, including perinatal asphyxia if the condition impairs the child's physical development.
When these birth injuries are the result of a doctor's medical malpractice, the victims deserve compensation and the doctor should be held accountable for his or her negligence or poor conduct.
What Can Cause a Birth Injury?
Birth injuries are usually caused by either a doctor's medical malpractice or the child's genetic makeup.
Even when a child's genes are ultimately responsible for a birth defect or injury, though, a doctor's malpractice can be a superseding cause that leads to their liability for the result. Many serious birth defects can be detected with genetic testing. That testing can be done early in the pregnancy, giving the parents the opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to have the baby or not. If a doctor does not perform a genetic test in the face of signs that a genetic birth defect is a possibility, it can amount to malpractice. It can also be malpractice to not communicate the results of a test to the parents.
Birth injuries can also be caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. When a doctor acts negligently and provides substandard medical care to patients, it can lead to a birth injury. Some of the most common ways for this to happen are:
- Poorly performing a C-section
- Hurting a child during an assisted delivery by using excessive force
- Neglecting a mother while she is in labor
- Prescribing harmful drugs to a pregnant woman
- Not noticing sure signs that something is wrong with the delivery and the unborn child is at risk
Any of these instances of medical malpractice can cause a birth injury and lead to a doctor being held liable for the results. This is true even if the malpractice caused a medical condition that then led to the birth injury, rather than directly causing the birth injury. So long as the birth injury was a foreseeable result of the doctor's negligence, they can be the ultimate cause of it.
When Do Birth Injuries Occur?
Birth injuries can either happen while the mother is pregnant or in the delivery room.
Relatively few happen during pregnancy. Those that do, however, are often very severe because they lead to congenital defects and birth injuries that have been developing for a while. A common source of birth injuries that happen in utero are doctors who prescribe female patients medications or other drugs that could be harmful to a fetus without first checking to make sure she is not pregnant. This can amount to medical malpractice.
Far more birth injuries happen during the delivery process, though. In the delivery room, doctors have to make important decisions very quickly to make sure both the mother and the child are safe. When the labor takes longer than normal or assisted delivery techniques have to be used to bring the delivery to its end, the chances for a birth injury increase dramatically. Doctors who use extraction devices can end up hurting the newborn in an attempt to complete the delivery, saddling them with a birth injury that they will spend the rest of their life trying to overcome.
Doctors also need to take reasonable steps and precautions to avoid dangerous situations that could cause a birth injury during the delivery process.
An example of this leading to a birth injury and a lawsuit is a recent case that Gilman & Bedigian handled in Maryland. An expectant mother went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to deliver a baby boy. Doctors, however, did not properly react to strong signs of fetal distress and failed to perform a C-section for two whole hours. By that time, the baby had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was born with developmental delays and Cerebral Palsy.
Gilman & Bedigian represented the baby and his family in their lawsuit against the doctors and the hospital. Neither would settle the case and it went to trial. There, the jury awarded the victim and his family a record for a birth injury in Maryland: $55 million.
What are the Symptoms of a Birth Injury?
The symptoms of a serious birth injury can appear right after the child is born, or can stay latent for up to a year.
Sometimes, the symptoms are very clear and obvious, like:
- The child is born with a broken bone
- Fractured skull
- The baby has seizures or there are dents or lumps in the baby's head – indications that they have a fractured skull
- Bruising or swelling
- The baby is born with a fractured collarbone or a dislocated shoulder
- Doctors need to give the baby a breathing tube right after birth
Not all symptoms are so clear, though. In some cases, it can take a pediatrician to notice or correctly diagnose the signs of a birth injury. The symptoms they may look for include:
- A subconjunctival hemorrhage in the baby's eye – an indication that the birth was so traumatic that there may be other issues
- Lack of vision or hearing
- The baby has difficulties eating
- Excessive drooling
- Coughing, wheezing, or other breathing difficulties
- Erratic eye movements, which could indicate a seizure
- The baby cries inconsolably with an arched back, a sign of extreme pain
If you notice these symptoms, taking your newborn to a pediatrician who is independent from the hospital that delivered your child can be a wise move.
In some cases, though, birth injuries do not present any symptoms at all for several months. It only becomes apparent that the child has suffered an injury when they fail to meet some of the developmental milestones that doctors use to gauge a child's growth. If a child begins to regularly miss these milestones and struggle with tasks like rolling over or crawling, it can mean that they are dealing with some neurological issues that may have been caused by a birth injury.
Compensation for Mississippi Birth Injury Victims
Birth injury victims are entitled to compensation for their losses and the difficulties their conditions put their family through. In Mississippi, that compensation can be recovered in a successful birth injury lawsuit, and covers all of the setbacks – whether financial, physical, or emotional – suffered by the victim and his or her family, including:
- Medical bills that have already been paid
- Medical bills that will likely need to be paid in the future for care associated with the birth injury
- Any reduction in the child's ability to earn a living, once they grow up
- The child's physical pain and suffering
- Loss of life's enjoyments suffered by the child
- Emotional trauma suffered by the parents as they watch their child grow up with a debilitating birth injury
However, Mississippi Code § 11-1-60 puts a $500,000 limitation on the amount of compensation that a victim and his or her family can recover for the following types of damages:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress
- Loss of society, companionship, and consortium
- Physical impairment and disfigurement
- Loss of life's enjoyments
This damage cap can prevent innocent victims from recovering the compensation that they need and deserve, especially hurt children who have to deal with their injuries for the rest of their lives.
What Happens if the Infant Dies?
Birth injuries can cause severe injuries, some of which can be life-threatening or even fatal. These tragic incidents often involve one of the following medical conditions:
- Blood circulation problems
- Trauma during delivery
Hypoxia is a sustained and complete deprivation of oxygen. If it lasts for more than a few seconds, it can have lasting effects on the child's development. If it lasts longer than that, the organs and tissues that depended on the oxygen supply can deteriorate quickly and die. This organ damage can be fatal. Even if the child is breathing, there can still be oxygen deprivation if blood flow is cut off and the newborn's circulation is unable to bring oxygen to important organs, like the brain. This can often happen if the baby's umbilical cord is wrapped around their neck, pinching off blood supply to their brain.
Traumatic injuries, like spinal cord injuries, can also be fatal. These typically happen during the child's delivery, and are often the result of a doctor's negligence or excessive force during an assisted delivery.
When a newborn child suffers one of these injuries, it can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Mississippi is one of the few states that have a wrongful death statute that explicitly covers what happens when the victim is an unborn child. The wrongful death statute in most other states let close relatives file a lawsuit whenever a “person” is killed through someone else's negligence, but do not define the term. Mississippi Code § 11-7-13, however, explicitly states that parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of an “unborn quick child.” The Supreme Court of Mississippi, in 66 Federal Credit Union v. Tucker, defined “quick” as an unborn child who has developed enough to move inside the mother's womb.
Mississippi's Statute of Limitations
All birth injury claims also have to abide by Mississippi's statute of limitations, which requires that a lawsuit be filed before a certain amount of time has passed.
When it comes to birth injury claims and medical malpractice lawsuits, Mississippi Code § 15-1-36 states that birth injury lawsuits brought by the child's parents on the child's behalf need to be filed within two years of the incident. However, if the child is pursuing compensation without the representation of his or her parents, they have until their eighth birthday.
Birth Injuries and Product Liability Cases
Occasionally, a birth injury will be caused not by medical malpractice, but by a defective medical device. These cases are more complicated because the negligent party will not be the doctor and his or her hospital, directly. Instead, it will be a hidden wrongdoer – one of the companies behind the design or manufacture of the device that broke or did not function properly during the child's delivery.
Healthcare professionals use lots of different equipment during a delivery procedure, especially if the child is born via C-section. For example, they use:
- Sterilized protective equipment, like gowns and gloves
- Sterilized towels and sponges
- Syringes and drugs for the mother, like Oxytocin to dilate the cervix to help in labor
- Forceps and vacuum-assisted extraction devices
These pieces of equipment can be defective in several different ways, each one of which can put the newborn child and mother at risk and lead to a serious birth injury:
- Defective designs create entire lines of medical devices that come with increased and unnecessary risks
- Manufacturing defects create individual devices that may not comply with the requirements of the intended design, making them dangerous and likely to break or not function properly
- Advertising defects fail to warn doctors of the hidden risks of using the medical device for its intended function, preventing the doctor from taking appropriate precautions to make sure their patients are safe while the device is being used
- Packaging and shipping defects, which can lead to a device that has to be sterile when it is used being contaminated with harmful bacteria between the production line and the hospital where it is used
If any of these defects ends up causing a birth injury in Mississippi, the victims can recover the compensation they deserve through a products liability lawsuit, rather than one for medical malpractice.
Gilman & Bedigian: Compassionate Yet Aggressive Birth Injury Lawyers
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian strive to serve victims of birth injuries in Mississippi the legal representation they need to recover the compensation they deserve. Contact us online if you or a loved one has suffered a birth injury.