Almost every pregnant woman plans her birth story. Some choose a special candle. Others select soothing music or white noise. Many women work closely with their partners to ensure a supportive, participatory birth. Though almost no woman's birth story goes exactly to plan, most women experience a birth that is relatively close to their birth plan. Many others experience a birth that did not go according to plan, but everything ended well. A small percentage of women, however, experience a birth plan that did not result in the happy, healthy baby they were expecting. Instead, a birth injury has marred their experience.
A birth injury can result in permanent or temporary injury. In either event, however, the child is harmed during the birthing process. Oftentimes, this is the direct result of the carelessness, recklessness, or negligent conduct of a medical professional.
Common Causes of Birth Injuries in Oklahoma
When a medical professional acts carelessly, recklessly, or negligently and their conduct hurts a newborn child, it can cause a birth injury. If their conduct amounts to medical malpractice, they can be held liable for the injuries that it causes.
Medical malpractice means any provision of healthcare that fails to comport with even a minimum standard. In the birth injury context, some examples of medical malpractice include:
- Hurting the child during a poorly-performed C-section
- Negligently administering the epidural by, for example, measuring the wrong dosage
- Neglecting the mother during her labor and missing important signs of fetal distress
- Ignoring signs of fetal distress and failing to shift into an emergency delivery
- Hurting the child during an assisted delivery by using too much force for the circumstances
- Not properly sterilizing medical instruments or equipment
- Prescribing drugs to a pregnant woman that may put her unborn child at risk
These incidents can happen in the delivery room or well before it. They can also directly cause a birth injury or can cause a medical complication that leads to one. Regardless, if the birth injury is the foreseeable consequence of a doctor's malpractice, they can be held liable for it.
This includes when a doctor fails to notify the parents that their unborn child is afflicted with a serious genetic defect. While it would be the genetic defect that leads to the medical problems that the baby is born with, if the doctor does not detect the issue or fails to notify the parents that it exists, it can deprive the parents of the information that they need to make an informed decision about their child. This can amount to medical malpractice and make the doctor liable, even though the problem was genetic.
Some Common Oklahoma Birth Injuries
From providing the wrong dose of medication to failing to properly sterilize instruments to waiting too long for an emergency procedure, the ways that a birth injury can occur are limited only by one's imagination. At any stage in the birthing process, something can go wrong. The list of common birth injuries below is by no means an exhaustive list, however, it does detail some of the range of things that can go wrong.
Bell's palsy is a condition wherein the infant's facial nerves are damaged, either during the labor or during birth. This can result in facial paralysis. When forceps are used, this pressure on the baby's face can result in facial paralysis. Sometimes the facial nerves are merely bruised. This can result in improvement without additional medical intervention. However, in other cases, surgery may be necessary to restore normal function.
There are a few ways an infant may suffer broken bones due to medical malpractice. For example, birth assisting tools, such as forceps, can result in broken bones. Additionally, when the infant is birthing, overly aggressive or forceful tugging can result in broken bones. Finally, there are cases where a member of the medical staff actually drops the infant. This can result in broken bones as well as other complications.
Bruising and Lacerations
An infant may suffer bruises on their face, head, or other body parts due to the use of forceps during delivery. This is especially true if the medical professional applies more force than is necessary. Further, the use of vacuum extraction can also cause bruising on the baby's scalp as well as lacerations.
Caput succedaneum can be caused by the use of vacuum extraction devices during a prolonged delivery. The term refers to scalp swelling shortly after birth.
When an infant suffers oxygen deprivation either before or during birth, there can be significant trauma. Oxygen deprivation may be the result of a prematurely separated placenta, a tangled umbilical cord, or certain other conditions. Oxygen deprivation can also occur after birth. This can lead to Cerebral Palsy, hearing impairment, perinatal asphyxia, hypoxia, blindness, and learning disabilities, as well as death.
Some of these birth injuries can easily be detectable and diagnosed by a pediatrician from the following symptoms:
- Broken bones
- Fractured skull, often from the presence of seizures or a lump or dent in the child's head
- A subconjunctival hemorrhage, which could indicate other neurological problems caused by the extreme pressure that was exerted on the baby's skull during birth
- Breathing problems that require invasive procedures
- Fractured collarbones or dislocated shoulders that indicate birth trauma
- Muscle paralysis in the arms or face
Other symptoms, though, are less apparent. Some of these can suggest that a baby suffered a birth injury, but are not conclusive. They include:
- Breathing problems
- Difficulties swallowing
- Eating problems, like nausea, weak appetite, or vomiting
- Hearing or vision loss
- Crying while the baby arches his or her back, a symptom of chronic pain
- Uncontrolled eye movements, which could be a symptom of seizures
When some of these symptoms are present, it can be wise to get a pediatrician to make a diagnosis. Seeing a pediatrician who is not affiliated with the hospital that delivered the child can be important if you want to get an unbiased medical opinion.
There are also some birth injuries that do not present symptoms for several months after the baby has been born. These are often neurological injuries that can make the child struggle behind his or her peers as they grow up.
In these cases, the most reliable symptom is a developmental delay. These delays happen when a child fails to achieve a skill or trait at the age they are supposed to develop it. Doctors recognize numerous milestones like these, and if a child consistently fails to meet them, it can be a strong symptom that they have suffered a birth injury and are being held back.
A Medical Malpractice Case Study
Like many couples, Rebecca Fielding and Enso Martinez had a birth plan in place. Like some couples, their plan to labor and deliver at home required modification, and they went to the hospital for delivery of their son. Rebecca's son was demonstrating clear signs of fetal distress, and the medical team at Johns Hopkins should have performed an emergency cesarean section. However, they delayed the procedure by two hours.
Unfortunately for Rebecca, Enso, and their son, this decision cost the family dearly. Their son suffered permanent damage which will require lifelong care. Rebecca and Enso decided to put their trust in the lawyers at Gilman and Bedigian, LLC. When Johns Hopkins and the medical team refused to take responsibility for their failures, the lawyers at Gilman and Bedigian, LLC took the case to trial. The jury returned a previously unheard of $55 million dollar settlement.
Birth Injuries that Lead to Wrongful Death
The worst birth injuries possible can lead to the death of the newborn child or to a stillbirth. Some of the most common medical conditions that lead to infant wrongful death cases include:
- Circulation issues or reduced blood flow
- Traumatic physical injuries
Hypoxia is a total, or nearly total, deprivation of oxygen. It happens when a newborn is unable to breathe – often during the delivery when their nose and mouth are both blocked. Without a supply of oxygen, organs and tissues – including the brain – are damaged and can stop working. If the oxygen supply is cut off for some time, the damage can be irreversible and fatal.
Oxygen can also be kept from the brain or other organs if the blood flow is compromised, reduced, or cut off. This can happen if the umbilical cord wraps itself around the baby's neck during the delivery.
In Oklahoma, parents can file wrongful death cases against a negligent doctor and their hospital on behalf of their deceased newborn child. 12 Oklahoma Statute § 1053 is the law that allows for these wrongful death claims, and allows plaintiffs to pursue:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of consortium
- Mental anguish
- Grief and loss of companionship
Oklahoma's wrongful death statute is one of the relatively few in the U.S. that explicitly allows parents to file a claim on behalf of their unborn children. Also unlike most other states, Oklahoma lets parents recover compensation even if their deceased child was not viable at the time of their injuries in the womb. This means that birth injuries that happen early on in the pregnancy and lead to a stillbirth can lead to a wrongful death case. Most other states require the fetus to have been viable at the time of the birth injury.
Defective Medical Devices and Birth Injuries
In some cases, the child's birth injury was not the result of a doctor's medical malpractice or even the child's genetics: It was caused by a defective medical device. When this happens, a medical malpractice lawsuit is not going to recover the compensation that the child and his or her family need and deserve to overcome their terrible setbacks. After all, it was not the doctor who was at fault for the child's birth injury. It was the fault of the company responsible for the defect in the doctor's tool.
Victims in these cases can file a products liability claim to recover the compensation they deserve.
These lawsuits argue that the medical device caused the birth injury because they were defective in one of the following ways:
Design defects produce medical devices that carry a needless risk to patients that could easily have been corrected. Manufacturing defects produce devices that do not match the intended design and that can break during use. Marketing defects fail to warn doctors about the risks of using the device in its intended way, keeping them from doing so safely. Shipping defects can contaminate a medical device that is supposed to arrive at the hospital in a sterile condition with harmful bacteria.
These defects are not hypothetical problems. Doctors use dozens of medical devices for even basic child birth procedures. When there is a C-section involved, the number of devices that get used increases exponentially. Any one of these devices can break during the procedure and either directly cause a birth injury, or create complications as healthcare professionals scramble to replace the device. In either case, the responsibility for the results should fall on the company that failed to make the device work properly.
Understanding Medical Malpractice Claims in Oklahoma
Every state has its own medical malpractice statute. As a general rule in Oklahoma, the time frame within which someone can file a medical malpractice claim is two years from the time the injury is or should have been discovered. However, when the medical malpractice claim involves a minor, the rules are slightly different. Oklahoma Statute Title 12, § 96 governs personal injury to minors arising from medical malpractice.
If a child is under the age of 12 at the time the medical malpractice occurs or is discovered, the parent or guardian generally has seven years from the infliction of injury to file a claim. However, parents are cautioned not to assume time is their friend. Parents may have a separate claim against the medical professionals, which may not be covered by the seven-year time frame.
In addition, medical malpractice claims can be complicated. Oftentimes, prior to filing a claim, medical malpractice attorneys will want to consult with their own medical experts to determine the best course of action – or even if a course of action is available to the injured party. Thus, as soon as a parent suspects their child's birth injury or condition is the result of medical malpractice, they should immediately contact an attorney experienced in practicing medical malpractice law.
There are other reasons to contact a legal professional sooner rather than later. Memories can fade. Nurses and doctors may travel and become difficult to locate. Finally, if a child is in need of ongoing care, including therapeutic care, the sooner the legal case starts, the sooner the parents can receive the compensation necessary to provide the best care for their child.
Do You Believe Your Child Has Suffered A Birth Injury in Oklahoma?
If you are concerned your child may have suffered a birth injury due to the medical malpractice of your birthing team, contact us online to schedule an appointment. We are happy to provide a no-cost consultation to discuss your family's situation.