If your child was injured during pregnancy or birth in Vermont and that injury was caused by the medical malpractice of a doctor or other medical professional, you have rights to financial compensation. Medical negligence, called malpractice, can occur at any point during your pregnancy or childbirth. In both cases, the injuries your child may suffer can be catastrophic, affecting your newborn for his or her entire life. The high costs of medical treatment, as well as the pain and suffering you both suffer, is compensable with money damages. You should not be on the hook for the high costs associated with birth injuries; only the responsible party should have to pay.
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 Vermont
Both in the State of Vermont and the rest of the country, the number of children born with birth injuries caused by the medical malpractice of a doctor or other medical professional is far too high. For women aged 25 to 34 years old, vaginal delivery with an instrument resulted in 193 injuries per 1,000 vaginal deliveries. For deliveries without instruments, the highest rate of vaginal delivery trauma occurred to women 15 to 17 years old. When these injuries are caused by medical negligence (malpractice), a medical malpractice lawsuit can help get you, your child, and your family the financial compensation you need and deserve.
Birth injuries may occur at one of two separate times. First, they can occur during the pregnancy itself, before the child is ever even born. Second, the child may be injured during the labor and delivery process. In both cases, there is a high potential for life-threatening or long-lasting complications. These injuries can result in life-long injury to your child, high medical costs, pain and suffering, and loss of an ability to work.
Complications Arising During Pregnancy
Malpractice that occurs during pregnancy tends to be less common than that which may occur during childbirth. However, this does not mean that the effect of that malpractice is any less serious. When doctors work with and treat pregnant patients, they are expected to follow certain protocols and know what treatments are appropriate for a woman who is currently pregnant. They also have a duty to look for and be aware of potential issues that may arise during the pregnancy.
Typical injuries that can occur during the pregnancy include but are not limited to:
- Improper use of in utero medical procedures
- Missed diagnoses of genetic diseases
- Prescribing of inappropriate medications during pregnancy.
Complications Caused by Negligent Labor or Delivery
During labor and delivery, a lot can go wrong if the doctor or another medical professional in the room is not careful. There are proper procedures in place to help ensure the health of your child, and if these are not followed, your newborn baby can be irreparably harmed.
Medically negligent conduct can result in:
- spinal injuries
- stress to the fetus
- loss of oxygen to the brain
- broken bones
At Gilman & Bedigian, we specialize in getting financial compensation for our clients who have suffered at the hands of a negligent medical professional. In one case, we represented the family of a boy born with cerebral palsy due to a doctor's negligent decision to delay a C-section. The baby lost his oxygen supply and was left with physical and mental disabilities. With the help of our attorneys, the family sued Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and won a Maryland record $55 million medical malpractice verdict.
Examples of Birth Injuries
Children who are delivered by a negligent doctor can suffer not only terrible injuries but medical conditions and illnesses caused by those injuries. Some of the most common are listed below:
- Klumpke's Palsy: a condition caused by damage to the lower 2 of 5 nerves of brachial plexus
- Detached placenta: placenta that has come loose from the uterine wall
- Infant Anoxia/Hypoxia: loss of oxygen to the baby during labor or delivery
- Cerebral palsy: a condition caused by brain damage during childbirth
- Cephalohematoma: a collection of blood underneath the protective membrane covering an infant's skull
- Shoulder dystocia: the baby's shoulders become stuck in the pelvic area of the mother
- 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
- Brain bleeding: damage to the soft tissue of the brain, causing bleeding
Symptoms of Physical Birth Injuries
Physical birth injuries are those that leave a newborn with a bodily injury, rather than one that will directly impact their mental or emotional growth.
The symptoms of a physical birth injury are usually present right after the child is born, and are often easy to see. They can include:
- Paralyzed or weak muscles, often in the baby's face or limbs
- A fractured skull, which often comes with symptoms like lumps or dents in the baby's head
- Fractured collarbone
- Broken bones
- Dislocated shoulders
- Bruising or swelling after birth
- Severe breathing problems that require a breathing tube
Some other symptoms, though, are less apparent. These can include:
- A subconjunctival hemorrhage, or a burst blood vessel in the white of the baby's eye, which indicates a severely traumatic birth that could have caused other injuries
- Coughing or wheezing
- Problems swallowing, which can lead to lots of drooling
- Unprovoked and uncontrollable crying, especially if the baby arches his or her back in the process – a sign of chronic pain
- Eating symptoms, including constipation, nausea, vomiting, or a lack of appetite
Symptoms of Neurological Injuries
Some birth injuries, though, cause brain damage instead of physical injuries. The repercussions of these injuries typically stem from oxygen deprivation.
Some of the symptoms for physical injuries can also indicate that neurological damage has been done, as well. They include:
- Seizures, which may be detected if the child moves its eyes erratically
- Severe breathing problems right after birth
- Vision or hearing loss
- Subconjunctival hemorrhaging
However, a more reliable symptom is the developmental delay that often comes from brain damage in a newborn. Unfortunately, it can take several months for a newborn to fall behind his or her peers in the growth milestones that doctors use to measure a child's development.
Causes of Birth Injuries in Vermont
These birth injuries are often caused by a doctor's medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice happens when:
- A doctor or other medical professional has a legal duty to provide a generally accepted standard of care to a patient,
- They fail to uphold that legal duty of care, and
- Someone gets hurt as a result of that failure.
When the patients are a mother and her unborn child and it is the child that gets hurt as a result of the malpractice, the result is a birth injury.
Doctors and other medical professionals – including surgeons, nurses, and even medical technicians – can directly cause a birth injury if their poor conduct is the immediate cause of the child's medical condition. This can happen during the pregnancy or in the delivery room. Examples include:
- A nurse drops the newborn, leading to a broken bone
- A doctor uses too much force during an assisted delivery, pinching the nerves in the child's head and causing facial paralysis
- A surgeon cuts the newborn with a scalpel during a C-section, causing nerve damage
Medical malpractice can also indirectly cause a birth injury when it creates a medical complication that leads to the eventual injury. This can happen when:
- Nurses neglect a mother during labor, fail to notice that the newborn is being deprived of oxygen, and the child is born with brain damage
- A medical technician does not sterilize medical equipment and the baby is born with an infection that causes heart problems
Whether the doctor's medical malpractice was the direct or the indirect cause of the birth injury, the victim and his or her family deserve to be compensated by the negligent healthcare professional and their institution or hospital.
Defective Medical Equipment Can Also Cause a Birth Injury
While medical malpractice is the primary cause of birth injuries in the state of Vermont, defective medical equipment can also lead to a newborn child getting hurt.
Like all products, medical devices and other healthcare equipment can be defective in three different ways:
Design defects are the least common. They fail to account for foreseeable risks associated with the design of the device or needlessly overlook a dangerous feature.
Manufacturing defects are anomalies that lead to finished products that do not comply with the intended design. This can cause a medical device to break while it is used, or can drastically reduce its effectiveness in the delivery room, which can complicate the delivery and put the newborn at risk.
Marketing defects are problems with the instructions for how to use a medical device. If the instructions fail to warn doctors and nurses of the risks of normal usage, it can leave them unaware of the danger. This can keep them from taking the proper precautions necessary to protect their patients from a serious injury.
These defects can plague any of the medical equipment that is used during a child's delivery. Even if the defective product does not directly cause a birth injury, its failure during the medical procedure can send doctors scrambling for an alternative, delaying the child's birth and putting them at risk.
Victims hurt by defective medical equipment can file a products liability lawsuit, rather than a medical malpractice claim, to demand compensation for their losses. The different type of claim is due to the fact that the medical professional who used the defective tool was not at fault for the injuries that it caused. Instead, the company who negligently produced the device should be held liable.
What Financial Compensation Can I Recover in Vermont?
When you and your child suffer at the hands of a negligent doctor, you can recover financial compensation in the following forms:
- medical bills
- future medical expenses
- pain and suffering
- lost earning capacity.
This money can help you get back on track and more effectively handle the challenges life has thrown your way.
What if the Birth Injury Proves to be Fatal?
Birth injuries can be life-threatening. If they end up being fatal, it can create one of the three following situations:
- A stillbirth where the injury was sustained before the fetus became viable
- A stillbirth where the prenatal injury happened after viability
- A live birth where the newborn dies from injuries suffered in the womb or during delivery
The time that the birth injury happens matters because of how Vermont's wrongful death law has been interpreted by the state's courts.
14 Vermont Statute § 1491 is the state's wrongful death law. The law says that “when the death of a person is caused” by someone else's negligence, the personal representative of the deceased person can file a lawsuit against the negligent party. This includes negligent doctors who cause fatal birth injuries.
While this law makes it clear that live-born children who subsequently die from prenatal injuries create wrongful death rights, it is unclear whether “person” includes a stillborn baby or fetus.
In 1980, the Supreme Court of Vermont stepped in to interpret the statute. In the case Vaillancourt v. Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, Inc., the court decided that the word “person” used in 14 Vermont Statute § 1491 included unborn, but viable, fetuses. This means that parents of a deceased child can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent doctor and his or her medical institution, even if the prenatal injury caused their child to be stillborn.
These birth injuries can come in lots of forms. Some of the most common, however, include:
- Hypoxia, or a total deprivation of oxygen that leads to severe tissue damage
- Reduced blood flow, which prevents blood from bringing oxygen to the organs that need it
- Traumatic injuries during an assisted delivery
Statute of Limitations in Vermont Birth Injury Cases
Under Vermont law, medical malpractice claims must be filed within three years after the malpractice event occurs, or two years after the discovery of the injury if it arises after the three-year deadline. This means if your case is filed after the applicable statute of limitations period has passed, your case can be dismissed even if you would otherwise have been successful in your lawsuit.
Vermont also has a seven-year statute of repose, meaning any medical malpractice claim filed seven years after the event that caused the injury may not be maintained even if the injury was not discovered until after 7 years. This is a hard and fast rule and can result in dismissal of an otherwise successful claim.
A piece of advice: do not wait. Contact an experienced Vermont birth injury lawyer as quickly as possible to avoid this potential issue and to have as much time as possible to prepare to file your claim.
Compassionate Birth Injury Attorneys Representing Vermont
Contact Gilman & Bedigian online to get started on your case if you or a loved one has been hurt by a birth injury in Vermont.