Birth injuries in New Mexico are serious medical conditions that newborn babies suffer when a doctor commits medical malpractice. They can happen during the mother's pregnancy but are more likely to happen in the delivery room. When they do happen, both the injured child and the child's parents deserve to be compensated.
The birth injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian can help victims in New Mexico recover what they deserve from the people who caused their pain.
What is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury is any medical complication or condition that leaves a newborn child with an injury or birth defect. While some birth injuries are genetic conditions, many are the result of a doctor's negligence or malpractice.
When they are the result of malpractice, birth injury victims can recover compensation from the doctor who acted negligently, as well as the doctor's medical institution.
When Do Birth Injuries Happen?
Birth injuries can happen either during the mother's pregnancy or while the baby is being born, in the hospital delivery room.
Relatively few birth injuries happen in utero. When they do, though, they are often the result of one of the following situations:
- The doctor or surgeon negligently performed an internal procedure on a pregnant patient and harmed the fetus.
- A doctor prescribed medication to a pregnant woman that harmed the fetus' development.
- A doctor failed to notify the parents of a genetic defect or condition that would lead to a birth injury.
Birth injuries are far more likely to happen at the point of delivery, though. Having a baby is a traumatic event, and doctors need to take precautions to make sure no one is put in unnecessary danger. This is especially true when the delivery is a difficult one with fetal distress or the mother is in labor for a long time. Doctors who assist in the delivery by using extraction devices can end up hurting the baby more than helping in its delivery.
What Can Cause a Birth Injury?
Birth injuries are caused by medical malpractice. However, some birth defects – medical conditions suffered by newborns that are the result of genetics – can lead to liability under New Mexico's medical malpractice laws.
Genetic Defects that Lead to Liability for Malpractice
Some medical conditions suffered by newborns are the result of bad luck and genetics. However, many of these medical conditions can be detected with a genetic test early in the pregnancy. This can alert the parents of the child of the likelihood that he or she will be born with a serious or life-threatening medical condition.
However, if a doctor does not conduct the test, the parents will not know of the risks of their child being born with a birth defect. This can deprive them of the ability to make an informed decision about their child's future, and can amount to medical malpractice on the part of the doctor who failed to take appropriate action, even though the doctor was not actually the cause the of the injury.
Medical Malpractice and Birth Injuries
Many birth injuries are caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. Malpractice means any healthcare that falls below a basic standard of care.
Malpractice can be the cause of a birth injury, even if it was not the direct cause of the injury. In many incidents of medical malpractice, the doctor's poor conduct or negligent actions create a set of medical complications that then lead to a birth injury.
Just because there are medical complications between the negligent action and the final birth injury, though, it does not mean that the doctor's malpractice was not the cause of the birth injury. They can still be held liable for the foreseeable results of their poor actions.
Defective Medical Devices and Birth Injuries
While a relatively rare cause of birth injuries in New Mexico, product defects can be the culprit in some cases. These situations are different from other birth injury cases that are caused by a negligent act or the malpractice of a doctor or other medical professional. Instead, the birth injury is caused by a medical device that was defectively designed or made. Because the doctor who used the device was not behaving negligently and could not have prevented the birth injury, victims and their families can file a products liability lawsuit against the company responsible for the defect.
Lots of different medical devices are used in the delivery of a child, especially if the child is delivered via C-section. Some of the most prominent devices and medical equipment include:
- Protective gear for the hospital workers and doctors
- Extraction devices
This gear can all be defective in one of several different ways:
Design defects leave needless dangers in a medical device that can create a birth injury, even if the device is used properly. Manufacturing defects can produce errors in a well-designed device that can make the piece of equipment susceptible to break when it is used. This can cause a birth injury, as well. Advertising defects are problems with the instruction booklet that fail to warn doctors of the dangers that are inherent with using the device. Without a warning of the danger, doctors may not be able to keep their patients safe. Finally, packaging defects can lead to the bacterial contamination of a medical device that needs to be sterile when it is first used in a hospital. This can cause a birth injury through a serious infection after the newborn's delivery.
What Are Some Common Types of Birth Injuries?
Because a birth injury is technically any medical condition that afflicts a newborn child in their earliest hours, the term encompasses a huge spectrum of injuries. Some of the most common, though, include:
- Erb's Palsy
- Facial paralysis
- Oxygen deprivation
- Perinatal asphyxia
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Cerebral Palsy
- Shoulder dystocia
- Skull fractures
- Broken blood vessels, including conditions like subconjunctival hemorrhaging and intracranial hemorrhaging
Each of these injuries can span a range of severity and are often interlinked. For example, a child whose birth is obstructed by shoulder dystocia can suffer oxygen deprivation when its umbilical cord is compressed. If the condition is rectified quickly, the effects of the deprivation might hardly be noticeable. If the condition persists for more than several minutes, on the other hand, it can lead to severe developmental delays, brain damage, perinatal asphyxia, physical impairments, and even Cerebral Palsy.
What are the Most Common Symptoms?
The symptoms of birth injuries generally depend on whether the birth injury is physical or neurological.
Physical Birth Injuries
Physical birth injuries are those that impair the newborn's physical state immediately after birth. The symptoms of these injuries are often far easier to see than for neurological birth injuries, though the long-term effects of the injuries is usually less devastating.
The symptoms include:
- Bruising or swelling
- Breathing problems, from coughing or wheezing all the way up to severe issues that require a breathing tube
- Broken bones
- A dislocated shoulder or fractured collarbone
- Fractured skull
- Lumps or dents in the child's head, which can indicate a skull fracture
- Seizures, which can be detected if the child moves his or her eyes erratically
- Vision or hearing loss
- Muscle paralysis, often in the form of asymmetrical facial movements or limp or weak limbs
- Eating problems
- Swallowing issues, which can lead to excessive drooling
- Chronic pain, often detectable if the child cries uncontrollably while arching his or her back
Some of these symptoms are readily apparent, while others could be a symptom of a birth injury or something else, entirely. A pediatrician's diagnosis is often required to know for sure whether a child has suffered a birth injury.
Neurological Birth Injuries
Neurological birth injuries carry the risks for severe long-term setbacks. Unfortunately, the symptoms of a neurological birth injury are not as apparent as those that come with a physical birth injury.
Neurological birth injuries are most reliably detected from developmental delays. These symptoms only begin to appear several months or even a year after the child's birth, though. When a child is late to perform certain physical, mental, emotional, or social skills, like sitting up, reacting to his or her name, or speaking, it can be symptom that they suffered a birth injury that has caused neurological damage.
Gilman & Bedigian's $55 Million Verdict as an Example of a Birth Injury
An example of how a birth injury can happen comes from a case that the lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian recently saw through to trial.
In that case, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, did not react appropriately to signs of fetal distress and oxygen deprivation. Rather than taking action to correct the situation and deliver the baby boy quickly, they waited for nearly two hours before performing a C-section. By that time, the damage had been done and the child was born with Cerebral Palsy and other mental and physical impairments that would prevent him from living a normal life.
When the doctors and hospital denied negligence or any sort of wrongdoing, the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian helped the victim and his family sue them. The case went all the way to trial when the hospital refused to settle it. There, the jury awarded the victim a Maryland record for a birth injury claim: A $55 million verdict.
Compensation in New Mexico for a Birth Injury
Victims of birth injuries in New Mexico can file a lawsuit of their own if they have been hurt by a birth injury that was caused by a doctor's medical malpractice. That lawsuit is a formal demand for compensation for the victim's:
- Medical expenses;
- Costs of future medical care; and
- Other expenses related to the victim's medical needs.
In addition to compensation for these medical expenses, victims in New Mexico can also pursue compensation for:
- Any reduction in their professional income once the child becomes an adult
- Physical pain
- Mental suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of life's enjoyments
- Loss of companionship suffered by the hurt child's family.
These non-medical expenses, though, are subject to a strict damage capping statute in New Mexico. New Mexico Statute Annotated § 41-5-6 limits the amount that a victim can recover in non-medical compensation in all medical malpractice cases to a strict $600,000. This damage capping statute prevents birth injury victims and their families from recovering all of the compensation that they need and deserve after suffering such a terrible ordeal at the hands of a negligent doctor.
Wrongful Death Claims for Fatal Birth Injuries
Some of the most egregious instances of medical malpractice can lead to birth injuries that are so severe that they prove to be fatal. Some of the most common types of birth injuries that end up being fatal include:
- Reduced blood flow or cut off circulation
- Traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord
Hypoxia is a total or near-total loss of oxygen. It is often a medical condition brought on by a traumatic birth where the child loses the ability to breathe while stuck in the birth canal. Without being able to breathe, tissues, organs, and the child's brain begin to deteriorate. The damage can be fatal if not corrected quickly.
Similarly, circulation problems can cause identical medical conditions to the organs that do not get the oxygen supply they need. This most frequently implicates the brain when the newborn's umbilical cord gets tightly wrapped around their neck, cutting off the flow of blood – and the oxygen it carries – to the brain and leading to a potentially lethal amount of brain damage.
New Mexico Statute § 41-2-1 holds negligent people accountable for their actions whenever they cause the death of another person. The statute, however, does not define “person,” so it has been up to the courts of New Mexico to fill in the blanks.
The Supreme Court of New Mexico, in the 1995 case Miller v. Kirk, agreed with an appellate court's prior ruling that a “person” under the wrongful death statute includes unborn fetuses that were viable at the time of their prenatal injury. This means fatal birth injuries suffered by fetuses that could have survived outside the mother's womb can lead to a wrongful death claim by the parents, even if the injuries led to a stillbirth.
New Mexico's Statute of Limitations for Birth Injuries
New Mexico Statute Annotated § 41-5-13 is the state's statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases, including birth injuries. This law provides a timeframe during which lawsuits can be filed after a birth injury. Initiating a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired will result in the claim being dismissed quickly, even if it is a strong case.
New Mexico's statute of limitations distinguishes between cases brought by the child's parents, on behalf of the child, and those filed directly by a child, without the representation of their parents:
- Claims brought by parents on behalf of their hurt child have three years to file; NS
- Claims brought directly by the child have until the child's ninth birthday to file.
New Mexico Birth Injury Lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian
If you suspect that a doctor in New Mexico caused your child's birth injury, you may be entitled to compensation. The lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian can help. Contact us online to get started on your case, today.