Birth Injury Cases: What You Need to Know to Make a Malpractice Claim

Learn the signs and causes of all types of birth injury. We’ll show you how to pursue malpractice compensation for your injured child.

Every parent wants the best for their children. For most, this means ensuring that our children are safe, well fed, and get a decent education. But sometimes a child’s problems start earlier in life. And in a few cases, those problems can start with a birth injury.

Birth injuries differ from birth defects in that a birth defect develops while the child is still growing in the mother’s womb. A birth injury, on the other hand, happens during or shortly after delivery of the child, and is usually caused by trauma during the birthing process.

Birth injuries can be caused by many different circumstances. Sometimes, a mother’s body may make vaginal childbirth a risky proposition. Sometimes, an infant may be too big for the birth canal. And other times, a doctor performing a procedure related to a birth (like a Cesarean section) makes a mistake. Any of these situations can cause a lifetime of irreversible damage.

This article will take a look at the different types of birth injuries. We’ll also examine the causes of birth injuries and ways to help prevent them. Finally, we’ll talk about birth injury lawsuits and damages to compensate your family for its suffering.

Types of Birth Injury and Conditions

new born baby

Giving birth is a complex biological process. There are many things that can potentially go wrong. Not all of them are life-threatening, but even nonfatal accidents can affect your family and your child for a lifetime.

Some common birth injuries are:

  • Hypoxic brain damage: This term describes oxygen deprivation (asphyxia) during childbirth. One of the more common types is called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Permanent damage to a child’s brain from HIE can result in learning delays or cerebral palsy.
  • Head injury during delivery: If a child has difficulty getting through the birth canal or is hurt by a doctor while assisting a delivery, it can alter the development of the child’s brain, also known as cerebral dysgenesis.
  • Broken bones: This most commonly occurs in the baby’s clavicle during difficult deliveries. Skull fractures can also result from a doctor’s improper use of tools during delivery.
  • Brachial plexus injury: The brachial plexus is a critical bundle of nerves that help control the arm and hand. Nerve damage to the brachial plexus can result in conditions known as Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy.
  • Pneumonia and other breathing problems: During difficult births, a substance called meconium can get out of the child’s body into amniotic fluid. If it is inhaled by the child (a condition known as meconium aspiration syndrome or MAS), it can cause pneumonia, a collapsed lung, or even death.

It’s important to note that not all birth injuries cause lifelong problems. But all of them need to be evaluated as soon as parents suspect anything is wrong. Keep in mind that some birth injuries aren’t immediately apparent.

Some common signs of birth injury in children are:

  • Difficulty balancing or sitting up
  • Delayed speech development
  • Non-response to stimuli (e.g., the baby can’t seem to see or hear)
  • Apparent involuntary movements or difficulty moving (ataxia)
  • Other behavior abnormality (unusual sensitivity or irritability)

If you suspect that your child has suffered a birth injury, get medical attention immediately. Once you have received a diagnosis and prognosis for your child, you can begin to inquire about potential causes of the injury, as well as compensation for that injury.

Common Causes of Birth Injury

man holding an obstetric forceps

Most birth injuries happen when a child is having difficulty getting out of the birth canal. This can happen for a variety of reasons.

1. Biological Causes

A common cause of birth injury is dystocia, also known as obstructed labor. In particular, shoulder dystocia happens when one or both of the baby’s shoulders get caught inside the mother’s pelvis during labor. Breech birth, when the baby’s feet are pointed to the birth canal, can also cause physical problems with the delivery.

Injuries can also occur due to prolonged labor. This condition puts additional stress on both mother and child that can result in injury.

A mother’s health is also very important to a successful delivery. Certain health issues, like anemia and preeclampsia, present risk factors for the baby. It’s critical that mothers, their obstetricians and other healthcare professionals work together to catch any potential medical conditions that could complicate delivery.

2. Medical Negligence

Doctors have a responsibility to observe and manage the conditions of their patients. If a doctor fails to observe or properly diagnose a biological problem of the mother prior to delivery (e.g., pelvic structure that may contribute to dystocia, preeclampsia) and that condition causes a birth injury, that doctor may be liable.

Additionally, doctors who observe dystocia must try to reposition the mother and baby during the birth. Failure to do this properly can result in broken bones, brachial plexus injuries, hypoxic injuries, brain damage, or even death.

A doctor who uses tools to assist a child in getting out of the birth canal must also take great care in doing so. Unnecessary or improper use of forceps or a vacuum extractor on a baby’s head, for example, can cause birth trauma and brain injury to the baby in the form of hematoma, permanent brain damage, or spinal cord injury.

One shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that a Cesarean section (C-section) is necessarily safer than vaginal delivery. To the contrary, Cesarean sections present their own risks of birth injury. According to the National Institutes of Health, C-sections risk laceration, cephalohematoma, broken bones, brachial plexus injury, and facial nerve injury.

Treatment, Claims and Malpractice Lawsuits

woman helping a boy

No amount of money can truly compensate a family who has suffered the heartbreak of a birth injury. Still, financial compensation is the only remedy that the law can provide in this case, and it can at least ease the suffering.

The first thing to keep in mind when considering compensation is how much it costs to treat the injury. In the best case, the injury did not cause lasting damage. The basis of damages would be the medical treatment for the injuries, along with pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.

In the case of an injury with lifelong effects, the compensation is more complicated. Medical bills and therapy are still a part of your damages, but you also have to think about the future. The Centers for Disease Control have estimated approximately $1 million in lifetime medical and physical therapy costs for cerebral palsy alone.

Severe brain damage can make the situation even worse. In that case, your child’s damages could be double that amount or more.

And if your child cannot work for the rest of their life because of a birth injury, their damages will also include the amounts that they would have been able to earn had they not suffered the injury. Of course, this can be a very difficult number to prove either to an insurance adjuster or a court. A competent medical malpractice attorney can help you figure out what you need.

If you decide that you do need to file a lawsuit, it’s strongly recommended that you consult with a lawyer. Personal injury cases, and medical malpractice cases in particular, have certain legal requirements that vary from state to state.

Some states even cap or limit damages in medical malpractice cases. As part of your pre-claim research, you should speak with an attorney about all of your claim options. That way, you will have the best chance of getting compensation for your child’s birth injury.

Get the Best for Your Child

Any injury to a child is heartbreaking. One that disables them for the rest of their lives is devastating. Medical care is constantly advancing, and many doctors are making great strides in preventing and treating conditions caused by serious birth injuries. Still, exercise caution when carrying and delivering your baby.

If the worst does happen, don’t delay starting the process of making a claim. Investigation of these claims is complicated, and your state’s statute of limitations may bar late-filed claims and leave you without a remedy.

Contact a qualified personal injury lawyer in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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