When a doctor's medical malpractice leaves a newborn baby with a defect or birth injury, both the child and the child's family deserve to be compensated for their losses. Missouri's personal injury law allows both parties to file a lawsuit against the doctor and his or her medical institution, demanding that compensation.
The birth injury lawyers at Gilman & Bedigain can provide the legal representation that victims in Missouri need to make sure they recover what they deserve.
What Can Cause a Birth Injury in Missouri?
A birth injury can be caused by the medical malpractice of a healthcare professional or by the child's genetics.
Malpractice can lead to a birth injury whenever a healthcare professional acts negligently, and their poor conduct leads to a birth injury. Obviously, this can happen in a huge variety of ways. However, some of the most common scenarios where malpractice can cause a birth injury include:
- Prescribing drugs to a pregnant woman that could harm her fetus or impair its development
- Physically harming the fetus during a medical procedure on the mother
- Neglecting the mother during the delivery or while she is in labor
- Not reacting appropriately to signs of difficulty during the delivery
- Using too much force in an assisted delivery
- Negligently performing a C-section
These incidents of malpractice can directly cause a birth injury. For example, negligently using an extraction device can directly damage the nerves in a child's face, causing facial paralysis. However, malpractice can also indirectly cause a birth injury by creating a medical complication that then leads to the injury. Doctors who commit malpractice that indirectly causes a birth injury can still be held liable for the foreseeable results, though.
Genetics are also a common cause of birth injuries or defects. However, doctors can be held liable for malpractice if they fail to detect or even look for signs that an unborn fetus is at risk of developing a genetic issue or has already suffered from one. Many genetic defects can be found early in the pregnancy and genetic testing can help the parents make an informed decision about their family. When doctors fail to conduct that testing or do not notify parents of the risks of their child being born with a birth injury, it can amount to malpractice.
In some birth injury cases, the symptoms are readily apparent. These are mainly for physical birth injuries, rather than neurological ones. Some common symptoms are:
- Bruising or swelling
- A dislocated shoulder or fractured collarbone – both of which are symptoms that the birth was extremely traumatic and that there may be neurological injuries, as well
- Fractured skull
- Bruising or swelling
- Muscle paralysis
In other cases, though, the symptoms of a birth injury are far less apparent. If a parent does not know what to look for, they might not even notice them. These include:
- Hearing difficulties
- Vision loss
- Chronic pain, often indicated by the child arching its back while crying
- Coughing, wheezing, or other breathing issues
- Difficulties eating, including swallowing problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Strange eye movements, which can be a symptom of a seizure
- Excessive crying or fussiness
These symptoms can indicate that the child had suffered a birth injury. However, they can also be symptoms of another medical condition, or just that the baby is having a bad day. A pediatrician can diagnose a birth injury from these symptoms and other tests. Seeking one out that has no affiliation to the hospital that delivered the baby is critical for getting an unbiased medical opinion.
Some birth injuries, though, leave neurological issues that will not become apparent for several months. These create developmental delays, and those delays are the most reliable symptoms for the underlying birth injury. As children grow, they are expected to be able to do certain things, like walk, crawl, speak, or sit up, at certain ages. If they are consistently late to achieve these developmental milestones, it is a strong sign that they have suffered a birth injury that is holding them back.
Birth Injuries Can Lead to Serious Developmental Delays
There are a lot of different types of birth injuries, each of which can lead to numerous medical complications. Some of the most common birth injuries, though, include conditions like:
- Cerebral Palsy, a birth injury that impairs a child's motor skills and their movement
- Erb's Palsy, which happens when a baby's neck is stretched during delivery to such an extent that it leaves them with nerve damage
- Shoulder dystocia, the medical term for what happens when a baby's shoulders get stuck in the birth canal, potentially causing Erb's Palsy and oxygen deprivation
- Intracranial or subarachnoid hemorrhaging, where blood vessels in the baby's brain are broken
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging, where the broken blood vessels are in the baby's eye
- Diabetic retinopathy, a preventable complication of the mother's diabetes that, if left untreated, can lead to permanent vision loss in the child
- Facial paralysis, which can happen during birth or during the pregnancy if the cranial nerve VII is impacted and can keep the newborn from using facial muscles, potentially preventing them from eating or even closing their eyes
- Oxygen deprivation, a serious birth complication that, if left to persist for any length of time, can cause developmental delays and even brain damage
- Perinatal asphyxia, a medical condition that develops when oxygen deprivation reaches the point that the child suffers a physical impairment
Each of these medical conditions can be relatively minor or very severe. Some can even be life-threatening. For example, if a baby is deprived of oxygen for only a few seconds, the effects may hardly be noticeable. However, if they lose their oxygen supply for more than a few minutes, the effects can be life-altering and can keep them from living a full and normal life.
Many of these birth injuries also carry the potential for developmental delays that slow a child's growth. Over time, these delays will keep a child behind their peers and make it more and more difficult to live independently.
The likelihood of a birth injury happening increases significantly whenever there are complications in the birth or a doctor has to use an extraction device to assist in the delivery. These are traumatic ordeals for both the mother and the baby, and the physical force that is used can be enough to cause serious and long-term damage to the child. However, birth injuries can also happen at any point during the pregnancy if the doctor commits medical malpractice and hurts the unborn fetus or causes harm that will impede its development.
An Example of a Serious Birth Injury: A $55 Million Verdict for the Victim
An example of a serious birth injury and the legal process that can follow it comes from a recent case that the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian pursued in Baltimore, Maryland.
In that case, an expectant mother went to the Johns Hopkins Hospital to deliver a baby boy. When she got to the hospital, though, there were clear signs of fetal distress that should have led doctors to take prompt action. Instead, they waited for nearly two hours before performing a C-section. By that time, the child had been deprived of oxygen for so long that he was born with Cerebral Palsy and both intellectual and physical developmental delays.
When Johns Hopkins and the doctors who made the decisions that led to the boy's birth injuries refused to accept responsibility, the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian helped the boy and his parents file a lawsuit. The case went all the way to trial, and the jury awarded a $55 million verdict – a state record for a birth injury.
Compensation for Victims in Missouri
Similar lawsuits can be filed by victims of birth injuries in Missouri, too. Those legal claims can demand financial coverage for the victim's:
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Medical bills
- Costs of future medical care
- Expenses related to occupational therapy or specialized education and vocational training
- Lost income, once they come of age
- Loss of life's enjoyments
Additionally, the parents of the victim can also recover compensation that covers their:
- Loss of companionship
- Emotional distress and suffering
- Expenses from modifying their home for a disabled child
- Costs of buying and operating an accessible van
In Missouri, though, the amount of compensation that can be recovered for the pain, suffering, and loss of companionship is limited by Missouri Revised Statute § 528.210. The amount of compensation for these losses depends on the severity of the birth injury. If the injury was “catastrophic,” the statute limits the victim to only $700,000 for these types of losses. If the injury was not catastrophic, though, they can only recover $400,000.
Infant Wrongful Death
Birth injury cases become different if the child died from his or her injuries. This is most likely to happen if the child suffers any of the following birth injuries:
- Severely traumatic injuries during the delivery
- Hypoxia, or a complete deprivation of oxygen
- Reduced blood flow or cut off circulation
Hypoxia and reduced blood flow can lead to fatal injuries if an important organ – usually the brain – gets no oxygen for a considerable amount of time. This can happen if the child is unable to breath for an extended period during birth, or if circulation problems prevent blood from flowing to the organ. Either condition can be caused by an umbilical cord tightly wrapping itself around the baby's neck.
If a baby dies from a fatal birth injury in Missouri, the parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit on the child's behalf, demanding compensation from the negligent doctor and his or her medical institution, and seeking to hold them accountable for their wrongdoing.
Missouri Statute § 537.080 lets certain people file these lawsuits whenever a “person” is killed by someone else's negligence. Courts in Missouri have slowly expanded what it means to be a “person” who is protected by the wrongful death statute until it now encompasses all unborn children, regardless of viability.
Until 1953, even newborns who were born alive could not recover compensation for any birth injuries. In 1953, in Steggal v. Morris, the Supreme Court of Missouri changed this rule, but still required children to be born alive for their parents to have rights under the wrongful death statute. It was not until 1983, in O'Grady v. Brown, that the court expanded the wrongful death statute to include stillborn children who were viable at the time of their injuries. While the court refused to extend the statute to unborn children who were not viable in the 1990 case Rambo v. Lawson, it reversed course not five years later in Connor v. Monkem Co., Inc.
Defective Medical Equipment and Birth Injuries
Occasionally, medical malpractice is not the culprit when a newborn child suffers a birth injury. Instead, the doctors and other healthcare professionals all acted appropriately and provided adequate medical care, with the birth injury only happening because the equipment used during the delivery was unexpectedly defective.
Doctors use lots of medical gear to deliver a baby, especially if the child is delivered with a C-section. Some of that gear includes:
- Protective equipment for the healthcare workers, like gowns and gloves
- Sponges, syringes, and towels
- Drugs like Oxytocin and the epidural steroid injection
- Forceps and other extraction devices, like a vacuum-assisted delivery system
Each one of these products and medical devices can be defective. The most common defects are:
- Defective designs, where the medical device was designed to work in a way that failed to eliminate a clear potential for injury or was needlessly risky
- Defective manufacturing, where a well-designed device is poorly made with errors that pose a risk to anyone who uses it
- Defective advertising, where the instruction manual for the medical device failed to warn doctors about the risks of using it, keeping them from taking appropriate action to ensure they made their patients safe
- Defective packaging, where medical equipment that has to be sterile is shipped from the manufacturing plant but gets contaminated with harmful bacteria on the way to the hospital
Any one of these defects can cause a birth injury. However, the injury would not be the fault of the doctors involved in the delivery. Instead, the wrongdoer would be the company who was responsible for the defect. Holding them accountable can require a products liability lawsuit that demands the company pay the victims the compensation for the injuries caused by the company's negligence.
Missouri's Statute of Limitations for Birth Injury Claims
Birth injury claims are technically medical malpractice lawsuits, so they have to abide by the terms of Missouri Revised Statute § 516.105. This is Missouri's statute of limitations for medical malpractice lawsuits.
Generally, this law requires birth injury claims to be filed within two years of the injury. However, under subsection (3), if the injured child files the lawsuit on their own behalf and without the help of their parents, they have until their 20th birthday.
Gilman & Bedigian: Aggressive and Compassionate Birth Injury Lawyers in Missouri
If you or your child was born with a birth injury and you suspect that it was caused by medical malpractice, you may be able to hold the doctor and hospital liable and recover compensation. The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help if you were hurt in Missouri. Contact us online to get started on your case, today.