Many parents experience issues with the hospital during the birth of their child. The problems are not always obvious, sometimes it could be a doctor or OB/GYN who seems stressed or rushed. Sometimes it could be a nurse speaking quietly to the doctor but not sharing information with the parents. Unfortunately, most parents are too focused on their child to bring up these problems.
If there is a problem during labor and delivery, the parents may not know if it caused some injury to their child for months or years. This is because the signs and symptoms of a birth injury can take a long time to develop. A newborn who suffered some brain damage during delivery may not appear any different than a healthy newborn.
In most states, parents with a child who suffered a birth injury can still file a medical malpractice lawsuit years after the delivery, as long as it is within the statute of limitations. If you are not sure whether your child’s developmental problems were caused by a birth injury, a medical malpractice attorney can help. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162 for answers about your birth injury claim.
What Is a Birth Injury?
According to the National Vital Statistics Report, a birth injury is “an impairment of the neonate’s body function or structure due to an adverse event that occurred at birth.” Birth injuries can range from minor injuries to serious debilitating injuries. There is a difference between a birth defect and birth injuries because birth injuries are caused by some event, which could include negligent medical care.
Some of the most common causes of birth injury include:
- Traumatic injuries
- Lack of oxygen brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Jaundice and liver problems
- Infection injury
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, there are about 157,000 potentially avoidable injuries to mothers and newborns during childbirth. The majority of these birth injuries and injuries to the mother involved trauma during vaginal births using delivery instruments.
Is a Difficult Birth a Sign of a Possible Birth Injury?
Given that so many birth injuries are caused by using delivery instruments, including vacuum extractors and forceps, why do doctors continue to use them? If you listen to the doctors, they will tell you that the delivery assistants are trained in how to apply just the right amount of suction to the vacuum or use just the right pressure for forceps.
However, there are risks associated with the use of vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery, including an increased risk of neonatal cephalohematoma. Cephalohematoma is blood collecting between the baby’s scalp and skull and occurs in about 2.5% of difficult vaginal deliveries. Potential complications of cephalohematoma include anemia, calcification, jaundice, skull fracture, and infection.
Many birth injuries involve a difficult birth. However, a difficult birth should not be blamed for a birth injury. If the injury was caused by a doctor failing to follow the standard medical protocols, then the injury was caused by the doctor’s actions (or inactions), and not just because the delivery was difficult.
There are many tools a doctor has to deal with a difficult birth or complicated pregnancy. In some cases, the birth injury is caused by a doctor failing to properly monitor the mother and baby’s vital signs, rushing a procedure, or during handoff procedures.
Timing is very important in the delivery of a baby. The timing of labor may not line up with the expected timeline. However, waiting too long to induce labor can also be dangerous. One of the most vital timing issues involves the baby’s access to oxygen. In difficult labor, timing can be of the essence because if the infant is not getting enough oxygen, it can trigger cell death and brain damage.
What is medical malpractice in a birth injury? Medical malpractice is a legal term that refers to professional negligence. In a birth injury, medical malpractice is the breach of the duty of care of a doctor that causes injury and harm to a patient. The breach of a duty of care is generally shown as a deviation from medical standards. Medical standards are based on decades of science, experience, biology, and medical training.
Signs and Symptoms of a Birth Injury
There are some signs that a pregnancy may be complicated before delivery. In some situations, there are higher risks of birth trauma. However, birth trauma is not necessarily caused by malpractice. If you have questions about birth injuries, talk to your birth injury malpractice attorney to understand what might have been the cause of the injury and if a doctor’s negligence made things worse.
Some risk factors associated with difficult delivery can include:
- Macrosomia (higher birth weight)
- Macrocephaly (larger head size)
- Very low birth weight
- Extreme prematurity
- Fetal congenital abnormalities
- Breach or other abnormal presentations
Some signs of a possible birth injury can occur during or shortly after birth. This can include physical or traumatic injuries, such as:
- Head trauma
- Caput succedaneum (scalp swelling)
- Skull fractures
- Subgaleal hemorrhage
- Intracranial hemorrhage
- Facial nerve injury
- Brachial plexus injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Skeletal injuries
- Facial injuries
Again, these injuries could be the result of difficult labor or they could be caused by or exacerbated by medical errors. If your child was injured during labor, make sure you understand the cause of the injury and the consequences of such an injury. If your doctor or hospital is not giving you the appropriate information after asking questions, you may want to turn to a medical malpractice attorney for help.
Signs of Brain Injury in an Infant
Some of the most serious birth injuries involve brain damage. Damage to the brain can be caused by trauma but is most often caused by lack of oxygen while the brain is still developing. Hypoxia, or not getting enough oxygen, can be caused by many pregnancy and birth issues. Causes of hypoxia can include:
- Prolapsed umbilical cord
- Nuchal umbilical cord (wrapped around the neck)
- Maternal hypotension
- Uterine rupture
- Anesthesia errors
- Failure to monitor fetal heart rate
- Delayed C-section
Neonatal hypoxia can lead to permanent injuries, including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy, and developmental delays. Treatment for neonatal hypoxia requires immediate attention. Some possible signs of neonatal hypoxia can include:
- Weakened limbs
- Spastic motions
- Decline in mental functions
- Abnormal heart rate
- Meconium staining
- Low Apgar scores
- Breathing problems
- Low muscle tone
- Organ failure or organ damage
- Abnormal response to light
Delayed Signs and Symptoms of a Birth Injury
A baby develops over time from the time the fetus begins to grow until the child reaches their teenage years. There is evidence that even the adolescent brain may not reach full maturation until the end of early adolescence at about age 24. Signs of a brain injury in an infant may take years to come to light. In many children, brain damage may not be known until the child reaches age 4 or 5.
The signs of brain damage can often be evaluated using developmental milestones. Developmental milestones are social, communicative, cognitive, and movement related which most normal, healthy children reach as they develop. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are developmental milestones for children from 2 months of age up to age 5. This is not necessarily a medical evaluation but can be observed by the way the child plays, learns, speaks, acts, or moves.
For example, some of the CDC developmental milestones for a child age 2 months include:
- Begins to smile
- Coos and makes gurgling sounds
- Turns towards sounds
- Pays attention to faces
- Can hold head up
- Pushes up when on tummy
These are general milestones and a 2-month-old who does not meet all the milestones may still be healthy and normal but may develop at a slightly different rate. If your child continues to miss milestones by more time, it could be a sign of something more serious.
For example, missing the milestones of a 2-year-old may be more important in evaluating possible developmental disabilities, including missing the following milestones:
- Looks at your face to see how to react in a new situation
- Notices when others are upset or crying
- Points to things in a book in response to questions
- Puts at least 2 words together
- Holds something in one hand while using the other hand
- Plays with more than one toy at the same time
- Kicks a ball
- Eats with a spoon
If you have questions about your child’s development, talk to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician can discuss the value and limits of developmental milestones and whether delayed development may be a sign of brain dysfunction.
Signs of Long-term Cognitive Disabilities
If your child has delayed cognitive function or learning disabilities, it can have long-term consequences that may require medical care, medication, therapy, or assistance. Long-term cognitive disabilities can include:
- Aphasia (loss of ability to understand or express speech)
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Dyslexia (spelling and processing difficulty)
- Language delays
- Short attention span
- Learning disabilities
- Lack of self-care skills
- Confusion in new situations
- Behavioral problems
- Poor judgment
- Difficulty learning simple routines
Understanding Brain Injuries in Children
The brain is a complex organ and damage in different areas can manifest in different ways. Some of the areas of the brain where brain damage can show up in children include:
- Occipital lobe
- Parietal lobe
- Temporal lobe
- Brain stem
- Frontal lobe
For example, damage to the back part of the frontal lobe can show up as weakness or paralysis. Damage to the middle part of the frontal lobe may result in delayed thinking. Damage to the front part of the frontal lobe can result in:
- Difficulty processing information
- Decreased fluency of speech apathy
- Delayed response to questions
- Socially inappropriate behavior
Long Term Care for Children With Birth Injuries
Brain-related birth injuries can require lifelong care. Parents may have to struggle with the reality that they will have to care for their child for the rest of their lives and make plans for the child’s care after they are no longer able to. Long-term care can be expensive, especially when the child requires assistance for the basic needs of life, including:
- Self-care and hygiene
- Medical care
For an infant with a birth injury, the medical costs alone could be more than the family can afford. Direct medical and nonmedical costs may include doctors’ visits, inpatient hospital stays, assistive devices, and home and vehicle modifications. The child may require regular care for 50 years or more.
According to the CDC, the economic costs associated with cerebral palsy in 2003 were $921,000. Adjusted for inflation, in 2023, the estimated lifetime costs for a person with cerebral palsy would be more than $1.5 million. For a child with mental retardation, the lifetime costs were $1,014,000 in 2003. Adjusted for inflation, the costs for a child with mental retardation in 2023 would be almost $1.8 million.
If a birth injury was caused by a doctor who failed to follow proper medical procedures or was in a hurry and didn’t provide a baby with proper care, they should be held responsible for the consequences. A medical malpractice lawsuit allows the family to recover the financial and noneconomic costs of a birth injury. Damages in a birth injury lawsuit can include:
- Medical bills
- Special education costs
- Future medical care
- Adult care expenses
- Mobility devices
- Home modification
- Pain and suffering
Where Can I Find Out More Information About a Birth Injury Claim?
Many parents with a special needs child do not get much information about the injury from the hospital where the child was delivered. The hospital may be happy to provide continuing care and bill you for the costs. However, even when the hospital was responsible for the injury, they may not admit to anything.
Doctors and hospitals react differently after the parents contact a birth injury attorney. With an experienced medical malpractice law firm, especially one with a strong local reputation, the doctors and hospitals suddenly get serious. An evaluation of your child’s medical records by a medical expert can help you understand what might have gone wrong and who was to blame.
If you have questions about whether your child’s injuries were the result of medical malpractice, to a medical malpractice professional. A medical malpractice attorney can explain the claim process of a birth injury lawsuit and how much your award might be worth. There is a limited amount of time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit so contact an attorney as soon as you learn about a possible birth injury. Contact experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.