When a birth injury occurs in the State of Washington, the impact on the newborn child and the child's family can be incredibly severe. When a baby is harmed due to the negligence of a doctor, the damage can be long-lasting or even permanent. This leads to disabilities, physical injury, cognitive impairment, or even the tragic death of a baby. While some injuries can be minor and recoverable, many are not and may follow the child and his or her parents for the rest of their lives. When a doctor commits a negligent act that causes harm, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed to hold the appropriate party responsible. When this is the case, you and your family should not be on the hook for these costs, 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 the State of Washington
Injuries to newborn children are far too frequent and when they occur, the results can be truly disastrous. The frequency of medical malpractice associated with childbirth both in the State of Washington and in the United States generally is likely higher than most people expect. According to one source, nearly 6 to 8 out of every 1,000 births incurred injury due to some form of medical negligence associated with trauma. These injuries typically occur when a medical professional who is a part of your child's birth does not do his or her job, resulting in the possibility of very serious injury to your newborn.
Birth injuries can occur during one of two stages. First, they can occur while the child is still in utero, i.e., during the pregnancy and before childbirth. Second and more commonly, the injury can occur during the labor and delivery process. Both situations can result in serious, long-lasting injury. These injuries can be incredibly expensive as well as cause great pain and suffering for both you and your new child.
Injuries During Pregnancy
When a woman is pregnant, her doctors are expected to follow a certain duty of care to protect both her and the unborn baby. When doctors are negligent in taking the extra care needed with pregnant women, serious harm can result. Many of these mistakes, and their effects, are irreversible.
Common causes of birth injuries that can occur during pregnancy include but are not limited to:
- Improper use of prescription medications leading to fetal injury;
- Failure to recognize signs or other risk factors associated with medical conditions; and/or
- Mistakes made during in utero surgical or medical procedures.
Injuries During Delivery or Labor
Most birth injuries caused by trauma occur during labor or delivery of the baby. Medical negligence that occurs during this time can lead to:
- brain damage
- broken bones, fractures, or bone bruising
- injuries to the child's spine
- stress caused by overlong labor or negligent delivery
- oxygen deprivation.
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 caused by a 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 Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and won a Maryland record $55 million medical malpractice verdict.
Examples of Common Birth Injuries in Washington State
While the types of birth injuries that can occur cannot all be listed here, some of the most common and severe types of harm are as follows:
- Pediatric Hydrocephalus: a buildup of pressure in the brain due to the accumulation of fluid
- Shoulder dystocia: a baby's shoulders become stuck in the pelvic area of the mother
- Stillbirth: a child born deceased due to medical negligence
- Detached placenta: a placenta that has come loose from the uterine wall
- Infant Anoxia/Hypoxia: loss of oxygen to the baby during labor or delivery
- Bleeding in the brain: damage to the brain that causes bleeding and often leads to other serious medical conditions
- Bone injuries: broken, fractured, or bruised bones often caused during labor or delivery
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE): damage and destruction of brain tissue due to a lack of oxygen
- Cerebral palsy: acondition caused by brain damage during childbirth
- Eye damage: damage to eyes as a result of the improper use of tools or intracranial pressure
- Brachial Plexus: damage to the nerves that connect the spinal cord to the baby's hands and arms
What Can Cause These Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries can be caused by either:
- Genetic abnormalities
- Medical malpractice
- Defective medical devices
The first two causes can lead to a doctor and his or her hospital or medical institution being held liable to the victims and paying them compensation for their injuries and losses. The last can lead to a products liability lawsuit that can hold the company responsible for the defect accountable.
Some children are born with congenital defects that cause a medical condition when they are born, often because something did not develop properly in the womb.
While these conditions are called birth defects, rather than a birth injury, it can still lead to a doctor's medical malpractice if a healthcare professional should reasonably have detected the genetic condition and informed the parents. Not relaying this important information to the parents can deprive them of the ability to make an informed decision, which can amount to medical malpractice.
A more traditional instance of medical malpractice can also cause a birth injury in Washington state.
Medical malpractice is the provision of substandard medical care to a patient and causing an injury or other medical condition. When the victim is a newborn child, the result is a birth injury.
Almost any conceivable negligent conduct or omission by a doctor can amount to malpractice. However, some of the most common instances in the birth injury context are:
- Negligently providing an epidural
- Dropping the baby after its birth
- Prescribing drugs to an expectant mother that can harm the development of her unborn fetus
- Botching the C-section
- Neglecting the mother while she is in labor
- Harming the baby by using too much force with an extraction device during an assisted delivery
- Not noticing clear signs that something is wrong and an emergency delivery has to be conducted
Any of these incidents can lead to malpractice and liability on behalf of a doctor and their hospital in Washington.
Defective Medical Devices
A defective medical device can also cause a birth injury, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.
Medical devices, like other products, can be defective in three different ways:
- By design
- During the manufacturing process
- Through defective marketing
Design defects lead to entire models of medical devices that are needlessly dangerous. Manufacturing defects lead to individual devices that do not comply with the intended design in ways that make them ineffective or prone to breaking. When it comes to medical devices, manufacturing defects also include issues with the packing and shipping process, which can lead to sterilized equipment getting contaminated with bacteria on the way to the hospital, where it gets used and causes an infection. Finally, marketing defects fail to warn doctors and healthcare professionals about the risks of using the device.
Any of these problems with a medical device can cause a birth injury. This can happen directly, if the defect in the medical gear is what causes the injury, like if a vacuum-assisted delivery system breaks while it is being used to deliver the child and punctures the baby's head. It can also happen indirectly, if the defect makes the device ineffective and forces doctors to scramble for an alternative, putting the newborn and his or her mother in a risky position while doctors try to make things work.
In either case, the victims deserve to be compensated, and the doctors and other healthcare professionals will likely be faultless for the injuries. Holding the company responsible for the defective device is crucial.
Some of the most serious birth injuries that a newborn child can suffer are neurological ones. These can cause brain damage that impairs their mental development. Those mental impairments can trickle down to emotional or social difficulties, in addition to intellectual disabilities.
These neurological birth injuries sometimes present some of the following symptoms:
- Erratic eye movements, a sign of seizures
- Severe breathing problems right after birth, a possible indication of oxygen deprivation that could have led to brain damage
- Lumps or bumps on the child's head, a sign of a fractured skull that could have caused brain damage
- A burst blood vessel in the baby's eye, also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, which is a sign of such huge amounts of pressure on the baby's skull during delivery that it could have caused neurological damage
However, many neurological birth injuries do not have any symptoms until several months have passed and the child begins to fall behind his or her peers in their development. When children miss several developmental milestones, it can be a symptom that they are dealing with the mental repercussions of a birth injury.
Some birth injuries only cause physical injuries. These are far from trivial, though.
Physical birth injuries often come with some of the following symptoms:
- Breathing problems
- Bruising or swelling
- Broken bones
- A fractured collarbone or dislocated shoulder
- Fractured skull
- Muscle paralysis, often in the face or arms, and often detected from uneven facial movements or weak limbs
- Vision loss or hearing problems
- Eating difficulties, including trouble swallowing and excessive drooling
- Extreme pain, which can be detected when the child cries uncontrollably while arching his or her back
A pediatrician can help make a proper diagnosis.
What Compensation Can I Recover in Washington State?
When you or your new baby were harmed as a result of medical malpractice, you have the right to receive financial compensation for those injuries. The most common type of compensation you can recover include:
- medical bills
- future medical expenses
- pain and suffering
- lost earning capacity
- loss of consortium.
What if the Birth Injury Was Fatal?
Fatal birth injuries are some of the most difficult times that expectant parents can go through. These injuries can happen after the doctor's malpractice causes a serious or life-threatening medical condition, like:
- Traumatic injuries to the head or spinal cord during an assisted delivery
- Hypoxia, or a complete or nearly complete deprivation of oxygen that lasts for long enough to cause tissue, organ, or brain damage
- Reduced blood flow or circulation issues that prevent blood from bringing oxygen to the organs that need oxygen to function, like the brain
In Washington, there are several ways to hold a negligent doctor and his or her medical institution accountable for their actions.
Parents can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a child who was born alive or who was stillborn from birth injuries suffered after the fetus had become viable. These lawsuits are allowed under Washington Revised Code § 4.24.010 and extend to viable fetuses who are stillborn under Moen v. Hanson. These claims can recover compensation for the grieving parents towards the expenses they paid to deliver the child and care for it, if it was born alive, and for the pain, suffering, and mental anguish.
Unlike many other states, Washington Revised Code § 4.20.046 also allows the personal injury claims that the injured newborn would have had to survive their death. This lets the administrator of the newborn's estate pursue a personal injury claim on the deceased child's behalf, in addition to the wrongful death claim that the parents can file. This survival claim can recover compensation for the child's anticipated future earnings, burial and funeral expenses, and other legal damages that the child would have sustained, had they survived, and which the parents could not recover in their wrongful death claim.
Statute of Limitations in Washington Birth Injury Cases
Under Washington law, a medical malpractice claim must be filed within 3 years of the cause of the injury. However, when the claim involves a child (as with birth injuries) the statute of limitations is extended and will not begin to run until the child reaches his or her 18th birthday. It is important to note, however, that claims by the mother for injuries to her are not extended that long and are almost always limited by the three-year limitations period.
A statute of limitations imposes a strict timetable in which an injured person must file his or her claim. Failure to file your lawsuit within the appropriate time limit can result in the dismissal of your case, even if it would have otherwise been successful in court. The best way to avoid this issue is to consult with an experienced Washington birth injury lawyer as soon as possible after you have suffered harm.
Compassionate Birth Injury Attorneys Representing Washington
Contact Gilman & Bedigian online to get started on your case if you or a loved one has been hurt by a birth injury in Washington.