The birth of a child is a joyous occasion. It most often comes after months of planning. Onesies have been purchased. Nursery themes have been researched and debated. Names have been selected. No one pictures the birth of a child as anything other than a blessing and a day of happiness.
Unfortunately, sometimes, a family in Rhode Island has a birth story that doesn't have a happy ending. Sometimes, due to an oversight, misstep, or deliberate choice by a medical professional, an infant is injured or even killed at or shortly after birth. For these families, the devastation is unimaginable. What was once thought of as a happy occasion is remembered with emergency technicians, unexpected removal of the infant, long nights in the NICU and long days talking to social workers and specialists.
What Can Cause a Birth Injury in Rhode Island?
A birth injury can be caused by a doctor's medical malpractice or by the child's genes. However, even when genetics are the root cause of a birth defect, a doctor's medical malpractice can still be the superseding cause and can lead to liability.
There are many ways that an infant can be hurt by medical professionals. All of them, though, fall in the following two categories:
- During the pregnancy; or
- During the delivery and birth.
Examples of a doctor's medical malpractice causing a birth injury during the pregnancy include:
- Prescribing the mother drugs that will harm the development of her unborn child
- Hurting the fetus during an internal procedure on the mother
- X-raying the mother without protecting her unborn child
Examples of malpractice during the child's birth include:
- Breaking the child's bones during a traumatic delivery
- Using too much aggression and force during an assisted delivery
- Negligently using extraction devices like a forceps
- Neglecting the mother during labor
- Accidentally dropping the baby after it has been delivered
- Failing to recognize signs of fetal distress that call for an emergency delivery
- Making a mistake during the C-section procedure
- Providing the mother a wrong dosage of anesthesia or the wrong drugs entirely
These are only some of the more common examples. Medical malpractice can take lots of other forms, as well.
Genetics and Depriving the Parents of Informed Consent
Genetic abnormalities in children can lead to them being born with birth defects. These are different than a birth injury because they are the unfortunate result of genetics and chance.
However, many of the most severe birth defects can be detected in a fetus from the very earliest stages of the pregnancy, often through a simple genetic test. Especially when there are warning signs that the child might be born with a genetic condition – like when there is a family history of a genetic disorder – not performing one of these tests can amount to medical malpractice.
It can be malpractice and can lead to the doctor's liability for the birth defect because not detecting the problem and notifying the parents can deprive them of the information that they need in order to make an informed decision about their family.
What are Some Common Birth Injuries?
Malpractice can lead to a wide variety of medical conditions in a newborn child. Some of them can be relatively mild, though others can be life-altering or even fatal. Even identical conditions can each have very different prognosis, depending on the severity of the injury.
Below are some of the most common birth injuries, however, in no way should parents consider this an exhaustive list:
- Broken bones
- Brain damage
- Nerve damage
- Physical delays
- Cognitive delays
What are the Symptoms?
In some cases, the birth injury is the symptom that it presents, like:
- Fractured skull
- Broken bone
- Fractured collarbone
- Dislocated shoulder
- Paralyzed muscles in the face
- Severe breathing problems
In others, though, the symptom can be a significant medical condition, but can also indicate that something is wrong that is even more troubling, like:
- Seizures, which can indicate a fractured skull or neurological damage
- Muscle paralysis, which could be a sign of nerve damage
- Lumps or bumps in the baby's head, which could indicate a fractured skull
- Bruising or swelling – a sign of deeper physical injuries like fractures or broken bones
- Vision loss or hearing problems, which can be a symptom of neurological problems
- A burst blood vessel in the white of the baby's eye, also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, which can be a symptom of other neurological and nerve damage caused by intense pressure on the baby's skull during delivery
- Weird eye movements, which could be a symptom of a seizure
There are also some general symptoms that could be a sign of a birth injury or something else:
- Coordination problems
- Chronic pain, which can be detected if the child cries constantly while arching its back
Many of the neurological problems caused by a birth injury do not present their own symptoms until the child begins to grow up. Those symptoms come in the delays that the child has in achieving the developmental milestones that doctors set out for children. When children are unable to meet these milestones on a regular basis, it can be a strong symptom that they are struggling to overcome a birth injury that is holding them back and preventing them from growing at the same rate as his or her peers.
One Family's Birth Injury Story
Rebecca Fielding and Enso Martinez enjoyed planning for the birth of their son in 2010. Their original birth plan included labor and delivery in the comfort of their own home, with the help of a knowledgeable and experienced midwife.
However, things did not go according to plan. The midwife reasonably determined that Rebecca needed more medical care and advised the couple to go to the hospital. Rebecca and Enso did as recommended. When Rebecca arrived at Johns Hopkins, she was examined and it was determined that a cesarean section was warranted. However, despite obvious signs of fetal distress, the medical professionals at Johns Hopkins spent two hours doing things other than performing the emergency cesarean section Rebecca and, more importantly, Rebecca and Enso's son desperately needed. During these two hours, their son suffered irreversible brain damage.
Johns Hopkins refused to take responsibility for their error. Instead, they insisted the fault lay with Rebecca and Enso. They insisted the damage to Rebecca and Enso's son occurred before Rebecca arrived at the hospital. Rebecca and Enso wisely turned to the medical malpractice attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, LLC. Gilman and Bedigian, LLC relies on medical professionals and a legal team experienced with medical malpractice to examine medical records to determine fault. In their assessment, the damage to Rebecca and Enso's son occurred due to the negligence of the professionals at Johns Hopkins.
When the medical professionals refused to take responsibility for their actions, the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, LLC prepared for trial. After litigating the case before a jury, the lawyers received a verdict of $55 million dollars against Johns Hopkins. This verdict ensures that Rebecca and Enso's son will have the long-term medical care he needs over the course of his lifetime. The money will not, of course, return their son to the person he could have become, save the medical malpractice of Johns Hopkins.
However, Rebecca and Enso – and parents everywhere – can be certain this verdict sent a message to Johns Hopkins. Verdicts like this often result in hospitals and medical professionals examining their practices to make sure other families don't suffer the way Rebecca, Enso, and their son have.
Products Liability and Birth Injuries
Some birth injuries are caused by defective products, like the medical devices and equipment used during the childbirth procedure. Doctors use a lot of different tools during a delivery, and that number increases dramatically if the procedure becomes a C-section. Some of the most common include:
- Vacuum-assisted extraction device
- Epidural shot to alleviate the mother's pain
- Oxytocin, to dilate the mother's cervix
- Sponges, towels, and sheets
- Protective equipment for the healthcare professionals
From the most complex devices that are used to the most basic, each one can be defective in one of three ways:
A medical device that has been made with a needlessly dangerous feature that could have been corrected through little expense or effort can be defectively designed. If that increased danger is what caused the child's birth injury, the company that designed the device should be held accountable and made to compensate the victims for their losses.
Manufacturing defects produce medical devices that are different from the intended design. Those variances can make the device break during a delivery procedure, which can cause a birth injury or can complicate the delivery process in a way that puts the newborn and its mother at risk. Additionally, manufacturing defects can include shipping problems, where the medical device leaves the manufacturing plant sterilized but gets contaminated with bacteria on its way to the hospital. There, it can cause an infection that causes a birth injury.
Marketing defects are issues with the device's instructions. If they fail to warn doctors of the risks of using the device in its intended way, the doctor can fail to take adequate safety precautions and can seem to cause a birth injury. The lack of information, though, would be the fault of the device manufacturer, though, not the doctor.
Rhode Island's Wrongful Death Law for Fatal Birth Injuries
Prenatal birth injuries can be deadly. These cases are some of the most tragic that can happen because the victim is a newborn child or an unborn fetus. They tend to happen when:
- The doctor causes a traumatic injury during the child's birth
- The newborn cannot breathe for an extended period of time and is deprived of oxygen
- Circulation is cut off and oxygen does not reach an important organ
Traumatic birth injuries are physical conditions that often happen during assisted deliveries when a doctor negligently uses too much force to get the child out. If the injury is to the newborn's head, neck, or spinal cord, it can be a fatal one
Oxygen deprivation, when total or nearly total, is known as hypoxia. When the newborn is unable to breathe, the lack of oxygen can compromise and damage important organs, including the brain. That oxygen deprivation and brain damage can also happen if blood flow to the organ is reduced or cut off, usually by the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around the baby's neck.
In Rhode Island, relatives of a person who has been killed by someone else's negligence – including a doctor's medical malpractice – can file a wrongful death lawsuit on the victim's behalf. Rhode Island General Law § 10-7-1 outlines how these lawsuits can be filed. The statute, though, does not define what it means to be a “person.”
The Supreme Court of Rhode Island has decided that a “person” under the wrongful death statute includes unborn but viable fetuses. The court, however, has taken a confusing road to that decision. Initially, in the 1976 case Presley v. Newport Hospital, the five justices split 2-2-1 over whether unborn children were covered by the law. That confusing outcome was resolved in the 1991 case Miccolis v. Amica Mutual Insurance Company when the court explained that Presley only extended to live-born newborns who died from their birth injuries and to viable but stillborn children.
Understanding Rhode Island's Statute of Limitations
The “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time one has to file a medical malpractice claim. Generally, in Rhode Island, the amount of time to file a medical malpractice claim is three years from the time of injury.
However, in Rhode Island, there are exceptions to this rule. If the injured party is a minor (under the age of 21), the suit must be filed before the minor turns 21. Further, in cases where the injury is not readily apparent, you may have additional time to file a suit.
Rhode Island's statute of limitations requirements can be complicated. There is absolutely no reason that a family facing a potential medical malpractice claim should have to figure out the complexities of Rhode Island's laws regarding when to file a claim. Instead, they should turn to an experienced medical malpractice attorney for advice and counsel.
Has Your Family Been Hurt Due to Medical Malpractice?
If you and your family are dealing with the consequences of medical malpractice, contact the attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian, LLC. Our legal teams are well prepared to evaluate your family's situation. We do not charge families to meet and discuss potential medical malpractice claims. In fact, if we think your case has merit, we will not charge you to take the case unless we win a verdict or settlement on your family's behalf. You have nothing to lose. Call us today at 800.529.6162.