If your child suffered a birth injury in the State of Utah, that injury is very possibly the result of medical malpractice by a doctor or other medical professional. This malpractice can occur during the time the mother was pregnant or even during labor and delivery. In either case, these very serious injuries can lead to years of medical treatment and all too often result in permanent and debilitating disabilities. The costs of treatment and continued care for these children can be incredibly high. You should not be on the hook for the high costs necessary to keep your child healthy, the person responsible for the harm should be.
If your newborn child has been harmed by medical malpractice, the highly experienced attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian are here to fight for you. You do not have to be alone in dealing with all you face.
Types of Birth Injuries
In the State of Utah and across the United States, the percentage of children born with medical conditions related to medical negligence is higher than you may think. In Utah alone, up to as many as 6 out of every 1,000 children do not survive the birthing process. Nationwide, birthing trauma occurs in 7 to 15 of every live birth, meaning that even while death may not result, serious injury still occurs. Mothers between the ages of 25 and 34 are the most commonly affected, but ultimately the medical negligence of a doctor can affect anyone, including your newborn son or daughter.
Birth injuries can occur during two different times. They occur either during the mother's pregnancy or the delivery and birth. In either case, the potential for life-threatening and long-lasting complications is high. It can result in expensive medical treatment, lost time off work to care for the child, and the inability of the child to ever care for him or herself.
Birth Injury Symptoms
The symptoms of a birth injury change drastically depending on whether the injury is a physical one or one that has caused neurological damage.
Physical birth injuries often have very apparent symptoms. In many cases, the symptoms are the birth injury, itself. These symptoms include:
- Fractured skull
- Bones that have been broken during the delivery
- Dislocated shoulder
- Fractured collarbone
- Paralyzed muscles, often in the face or arms
Other physical symptoms indicate a deeper, more troubling birth injury. These symptoms can include:
- Seizures – which come with symptoms like erratic eye movements – which can indicate a fractured skull or other brain damage
- Lumps or dents in the newborn's head, which can be a symptom of a fractured skull
- Bruising or swelling right after birth
- Severe breathing difficulties that require intubation after birth – a symptom of neurological damage from oxygen deprivation
- A subconjunctival hemorrhage, or a dark red spot in the white of the newborn's eye, which can be a symptom of neurological damage from intense pressure on the child's skull during delivery
- Incessant crying while the baby arches his or her back – a symptom of severe pain
Other symptoms are weak indicators that a birth injury has occurred. However, when they line up with other symptoms, they can be important. They include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Excessive drooling
- Weak appetite
- Coughing or wheezing
Birth injuries that cause neurological damage, on the other hand, may not present any symptoms for several months. Only when the child struggles to perform tasks that doctors use as growth milestones will it become apparent that they are dealing with the after effects of a birth injury. These developmental delays, however, do not begin to show themselves for a few months, and do not become readily apparent for nearly a year.
Causes of Birth Injuries in Utah
Whether they happen during the pregnancy or during the child's delivery, birth injuries are frequently the result of a doctor's medical malpractice. That malpractice can make the doctor, as well as his or her medical institution or hospital, legally liable for the costs that the birth injury will have on the child's future.
Medical malpractice causes a birth injury when:
- A medical professional owes a legal duty to provide a generally accepted standard of medical care to the mother and the infant,
- The professional fails to uphold that duty, and
- The infant is hurt as a result of that substandard level of care.
Some of these instances of malpractice are the direct cause of a birth injury. These include:
- A surgeon botches a C-section and hurts the child while making the incision with a scalpel
- A nurse drops the newborn baby
- An OBGYN negligently performs an internal procedure on a pregnant mother and hurts the unborn child
- A doctor damages a child's nerves during an assisted delivery because they negligently use an extraction device, like a forceps
In these cases, there is little defense on behalf of the medical professional. They acted negligently and their conduct was the immediate and direct cause of the child's injuries.
In other cases, though, the line of causation is less clear:
- A mother is neglected during labor and no one notices that her newborn is losing oxygen because the umbilical cord is wrapped around its neck, depriving it of oxygen and causing it to be born with brain damage
- A medical technician fails to sterilize medical equipment, causing an infection in the newborn that leads to life-long heart problems
Just because there are intervening factors, though, does not mean that a negligent medical professional should escape liability. They set in motion the chain of events that hurt the child, and should be held accountable.
Malpractice During Pregnancy
Although less common than delivery-related malpractice, negligence that occurs during the pregnancy can have a severe impact on the unborn baby. Many of these issues cannot be fixed once they are done. Doctors who treat pregnant patients have a duty to be aware of the special treatment requirements of pregnant women and to be on the lookout for potential issues related to the pregnancy.
Common injuries that occur in utero include, but are not limited to:
- Improper prescriptions prescribed to mother
- Failure to diagnose genetic risks or diseases
- Malpractice during in utero medical procedures
Malpractice During Delivery or Labor
During the delivery of your child, a lot can still go wrong if the doctor or other medical staff is negligent. Improper use of medical procedures can result in:
- broken bones;
- oxygen deprivation;
- spinal injuries; or
- fetal stress.
At Gilman & Bedigian, we specialize in winning compensation for our clients who have suffered at the hands of a negligent doctor. In one case, we represented the family of a boy born with cerebral palsy due to the doctor's negligent decision to delay a C-section. The young child lost his oxygen supply and was left with physical and mental disabilities. With the help of our attorneys, the family sued John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and won a Maryland record $55 million medical malpractice verdict.
Defective Medical Devices
Finally, some birth injuries are not the result of medical malpractice, at all. Instead, they are caused by a defect in one of the dozens of tools that a doctor or nurse used during the delivery. These tools, medical equipment, and devices include things like:
- Protective equipment, like gowns and masks
- Towels, sponges, and sheets
- Extraction devices, like a vacuum-assisted delivery system or forceps
- Drugs, like Oxytocin or an epidural shot
Even more are used if the delivery is via C-section.
Any of these devices can be defective if they have a:
- Design flaw
- Manufacturing anomaly
- Warning defect
Of these three, warning defects are the most common in the medical field: They are inadequate warnings or instructions about how the use a particular medical product or an insufficient listing of the risks of using it in its intended way. Without these warnings, the healthcare professionals who use the device can be powerless to keep their patients safe during a medical procedure, like the birth of a child. This can cause a birth injury through no fault of the doctor who was using the device.
Manufacturing issues can also produce defective products that end up causing a birth injury. When a medical device does not conform to its intended design, it is far more likely to break when it is used. Additionally, manufacturing defects can send medical equipment that is supposed to be sterilized out to hospitals in defective packaging that can allow the gear to get contaminated on its way. This can lead to a serious infection.
If any of these defects causes a child's birth injury, the victim and his or her parents can recover the compensation that they need and deserve through a products liability lawsuit against the company responsible for the defect.
Examples of Birth Injuries
There are a large number of potential conditions a child could suffer as a result of medical negligent. Some of the most common injuries are listed below.
- Brain bleeding: damage to the soft tissue of the brain causing bleeding
- Cephalohematoma: a collection of blood underneath the protective membrane covering an infant's skull
- Detached placenta: a placenta that has come loose from the uterine wall
- Infant Anoxia/Hypoxia: a loss of oxygen to the baby during labor or delivery
- Klumpke's Palsy: a condition caused by damage to lower 2 of 5 nerves of brachial plexus
- Cerebral palsy: a condition caused by brain damage during childbirth
- Pediatric Hydrocephalus: a buildup of pressure in the brain due to accumulation of fluid
- Brachial Plexus: damage to nerves that connect the spinal cord to the baby's hands and arms
- Bone injuries: broken, fractured, or bruised bones often caused during labor or delivery
- Shoulder dystocia: baby's shoulders become stuck in the pelvic area of the mother
These injuries are often caused by:
- failing to use proper equipment;
- depriving the baby of oxygen;
- failing to handle umbilical cord entanglement; or
- failing to recognize signs of fetal distress.
What Compensation Can I Recover?
After you and your newborn suffers an injury as a result of medical negligence, you are entitled to receive financial compensation for those injuries. Compensation may take any of the following forms, but is not necessarily limited to these:
- medical bills
- future medical expenses
- pain and suffering
- lost earning capacity
- loss of consortium
This compensation is incredibly important to getting your life back on track, and being able to move forward in life with confidence.
What if the Birth Injury Was Fatal?
If the birth injury proved to be fatal, the parents of the deceased child may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit that alleges medical malpractice against the negligent doctor and his or her hospital.
Importantly, there are three distinct infant wrongful death situations:
- The baby was born alive but died shortly thereafter from prenatal injuries
- The baby was stillborn from injuries suffered after it had become viable
- The baby was hurt before it was viable and was stillborn
Utah's wrongful death statute is Utah Code § 78B-3-106. This statute lets the parents of a child file a wrongful death claim “when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” This phrase is critically important because the statute does not define what it means by the word “person.”
Obviously, it covers babies who were born alive but subsequently died from prenatal injuries.
Stillborn babies, on the other hand, do not clearly fall under the realm of the statute.
To add to the confusion, Utah recently revised its wrongful death statute. Before 2009, there were distinct laws for wrongful death situations where the victim was an adult and when the victim was a child. The only case involving infant wrongful death that has been decided by the Supreme Court of Utah, Carranza v. U.S., dealt with the old version of the statute. That case seemed to decide that the wrongful death law governing minor children also covered unborn children. However, there was no majority opinion and some lingering uncertainty over whether it extended to nonviable fetuses, as well.
The wrongful death law that Carranza interpreted was revised in 2009 to only deal with injuries suffered by minor children, not deaths. This combined all wrongful death claims under § 78B-3-106, again making it unclear whether parents can pursue a wrongful death claim on behalf of a child that was stillborn in Utah.
Statute of Limitations in Utah Birth Injury Cases
Under Utah law, the statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases is 2 years. This two-year period begins from the date the injury occurred, or the date it should have been discovered. No case may be filed later than 4 years after the injury occurred, even if the injury was not discovered until after that 4 year period has elapsed.
A few exceptions can extend this timeline. If a "foreign object" is left within the patient's body, a malpractice lawsuit may be filed within 1 year of the discovery of that object (or when it reasonably should have been discovered). The time may also be extended if the doctor somehow prevented the discovery of the issue, in which case the patient may file within 1 year of that discovery.
Do not delay. Utah law on when you may file your case is very strict, and very defendant friendly. However, if you approach your attorney as soon as you can after your child is harmed by medical malpractice, you can protect your right to file a lawsuit.
Compassionate Birth Injury Attorneys Representing Utah
Contact Gilman & Bedigian online to get started on your case if you or a loved one has been hurt by a birth injury in Utah.