Defining Malpractice: Negligence & The Standard Of Care
Negligence is a simple legal concept, and it serves as the foundation for every viable medical malpractice lawsuit. As trusted medical professionals, midwives, nurses, obstetricians and other health care providers owe the mothers and children under their care a clear duty – to do everything within their power to prevent harm from befalling an infant.
We rely on our doctors to uphold their profession’s standards, whether that be appropriately diagnosing dangerous maternal health conditions after noticing troubling symptoms or ordering an emergency cesarean section if necessary. But some medical providers fall short of this “duty of care.” Some physicians are simply incompetent – making elementary mistakes in medical practice, or failing to communicate effectively with their coworkers. Others neglect to remain current with the latest in childbirth best practices.
Developing A Birth Injury Lawsuit
Nearly every medical malpractice lawsuit involving a birth injury rests on three independent claims; these are the allegations that a family will have to prove to win their case.
- that the defendant – a doctor, obstetrician, nurse, midwife or hospital – was responsible for the health and wellbeing of a mother and her child during labor and delivery
- that the defendant was negligent, falling below the relevant standard of care in performing their duties as a medical professional
- that the defendant’s negligent act or omission (a failure to act) caused unnecessary harm to the infant
In court, families will first have to define the relevant “standard of care” that should have been followed during labor and delivery, outlining the level of quality care to which they were entitled in being accepted as a healthcare professional’s patient. This step almost always requires the expertise of an independent medical expert, who will help the court and jury understand how a doctor should have proceeded under the specific circumstances at issue in the case.
Then, using the medical expert as a guide and resource, families will need to present convincing evidence that their own healthcare provider violated the defined standard of care, by failing to act in a way that a reasonable healthcare professional would have in a similar context. Finally, the case’s success will rest on proving that a child’s injuries were in reality the result of a healthcare professional’s negligence, and not the unforeseeable or unavoidable consequences of a well-managed childbirth.
Common Examples Of Medical Negligence
Until our experienced birth injury attorneys have reviewed the facts of your child’s birth in detail, there’s no way for us to know whether or not medical negligence caused your child harm. That’s a question that can only be answered after a medical malpractice lawyer has thoroughly analyzed the records from pregnancy, labor and delivery with the help of a medical expert. But here’s a list of some common mistakes that often support successful medical malpractice lawsuits:
- Failure to properly monitor an infant’s oxygen intake before and after delivery
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors in assisted deliveries
- Failure to appropriately diagnose maternal health conditions, like preeclampsia or diabetes, which can threaten an unborn child’s health
- Failure to properly conduct prenatal tests and identify life-threatening situations like a prolapsed umbilical cord
- Failure to order an emergency C-section under necessary conditions
- Failure to communicate emergency circumstances to the right healthcare professionals
While most birth injury malpractice lawsuits have physicians, midwives or nurses – professionals active in the labor and delivery process – as primary defendants, some cases will find negligence further afield. Hospitals can also be held liable, in the event that a facility allowed healthcare providers with known histories of negligent conduct to participate in childbirth.
Birth Defects & Birth Injuries
Malpractice itself doesn’t need to be confined to childbirth. Prenatal care is of crucial importance, as well, and many negligent doctors have been held accountable for prescribing dangerous drugs to pregnant women.
At first, it’s often difficult to distinguish between birth defects and birth injuries. In common parlance (and in law), a birth injury is damage sustained around or during childbirth, often as the result of negligent medical care. But some forms of impairment, and some severe disabilities, begin far earlier – during fetal development.
Cerebral palsy is one example of a condition that, in some instances, can be considered either a birth injury – caused by oxygen deprivation at delivery – or an inborn genetic birth defect.
While some birth defects are caused by pre-existing genetic anomalies – and have little to do with a doctor’s abilities or competence – other such congenital abnormalities can in fact be attributed to medical negligence. Many pharmaceutical drugs, for example, are known “teratogens,” chemicals that can adversely impact the development of unborn children. When careless doctors prescribe these drugs to pregnant women, they can be held accountable for doing so if a child is born with birth defects as a result. Some cases of this sort can even come to include a pharmaceutical manufacturer as defendant.
What Compensation Can We Win In A Birth Injury Lawsuit?
After sustaining a birth injury, some children will require life-long care, and costly medical treatments, to live up to their full potential. These are burdens that no family should bear alone, but time and time again, we’ve met with families who are struggling to give their children the best possible life – while buried under mountains of medical debt. Many parents could benefit from mental health counseling themselves, but have no way to pay for expensive therapy sessions.
We all know that raising a child with special needs or a disability is a challenge. Pursuing a medical malpractice offers some families the resources to meet this challenge head-on. If your child’s condition came as the result of medical negligence, your family may be able to secure significant financial compensation:
- Past, present and future medical expenses and bills
- Rehabilitation costs
- Occupational and physical therapy
- Emotional counseling
- Assistive technologies
- Home modifications
- Lost wages that could not be earned because you were tending to your child’s needs
- Pain and suffering damages
In limited cases, families may even be eligible to secure punitive damages. While most damages in a personal injury lawsuit are intended to compensate plaintiffs for what they have lost as the result of negligence, punitive damages are meant to punish particularly reckless healthcare professionals. Punitive damages can have the added benefit of deterring egregious behavior in the future.
Building A Plan For Long-Term Support
For many families, filing a medical negligence lawsuit comes with an unexpected advantage. Experienced attorneys have to demand a specific amount of compensation from negligent doctors, nurses, midwives or hospitals. We don’t just make up an arbitrary number. But to estimate an adequate amount of compensation, we need to understand how your child’s injuries will impact their daily activities and quality of life – not in the short-term, but for years to come.
We accomplish this goal by creating a life care plan for your child. Working together with your child’s physicians and therapists, along with a professional life care planner and medical experts, our birth injury lawyers will create a thorough action plan, outlining the treatments, therapies and environmental modifications that will truly promote your child’s wellbeing.
All the while, we’re trying to answer a simple, but difficult, question: how can we ensure that your child lives to their full potential? Answering that question comprehensively provides families with invaluable insight on what challenges they may face in the future, as well as how to overcome them.
Is There A Time Limit For Filing Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?
Each state has enacted its own “statute of limitations” for medical malpractice claims. These laws vary widely, and can be very complex in and of themselves. A statute of limitations serves as a legal time limit; file your lawsuit after the statute of limitations has run out, and it’s highly likely that the court will not allow the case to proceed.
Many states allow injured patients between two and three years after the date of malpractice to file suit, although some legislatures have recognized the complex nature of medical injuries with so-called “discovery rules.” In some cases, the effects of medical malpractice only become apparent after months or years – often long after a statute of limitations has run out. For patients in these circumstances, a discovery rule may come into effect, which prevents the statute of limitations from beginning to run until the date on which a patient became aware – or should have become aware – that their injuries were potentially caused by a doctor’s negligent conduct.
Thankfully, many states allow families additional time to file birth injury lawsuits since these cases involve children, who are considered “minors” under the law. Some states extend a family’s rights all the way up to their child’s 18th birthday, the age of majority, while others have set seemingly arbitrary limits around other birthdays. Again, this is a nuanced issue, and families are best served by contacting an experienced birth injury attorney to ensure that their rights are not limited by a statute of limitations that is fast running out.
Should My Family Pursue Justice In A Lawsuit?
We understand that pursuing a court case, especially when you’re already so busy raising your child, can seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
At BirthInjuryAdvocates.com, our experienced birth injury attorneys hope to relieve the burden of litigation as much as possible. We want to make the legal process, which can prevent families with justified claims from pursuing their case, as easy for families as it can be.
But that doesn’t mean we won’t keep you informed about developments in your lawsuit. Our attorneys are committed to transparent communication, so your family always knows where it stands. We believe that you, and your child, deserve that much.
Aren’t Medical Negligence Lawyers Expensive?
Working with our medical malpractice attorneys shouldn’t be a financial burden. That’s why our lawyers always offer their services on a contingency-fee basis. That means we assume the financial risks of filing your lawsuit, and only accept a fee after we’ve secured compensation in your case.
In other words, we don’t accept compensation until your family does.
You can find more information on your legal options at no cost. Just call our birth injury team or fill out our contact form to speak with an experienced attorney free of charge today.