Q. What Does Birth Injury Mean?
When infants are harmed at some point during labor and delivery, doctors call the resulting injuries “birth injuries.” These aren’t preexisting genetic conditions, but forms of harm that were suffered during birth – and often, as the result of the childbirth process itself.
Birth injuries can be minor. In reality, many children receive mild bruises simply from the mechanical pressure of fitting through the birth canal. Thankfully, most of these mild birth injuries heal rather quickly, and many traumas don’t require any medical treatment at all. But some infants sustain severe injuries during birth, and in rare cases, these injuries will result in long-term disability.
Birth injuries don’t have to be immediately-apparent physical cuts and scratches, although these are quite possible, especially in assisted deliveries. Many children suffer brain damage during delivery, often as a result of oxygen deprivation, or birth asphyxia. In some cases, birth asphyxia can cause severe, and debilitating medical conditions, like cerebral palsy. The signs of such injuries, however, may only appear days or months after a child’s delivery.
Q. Is That Different From A Birth Defect?
Birth defects, or congenital abnormalities, are caused by genetic mutations, along with environmental factors that alter fetal development in the womb. Birth injuries, on the other hand, are sustained during the childbirth process.
In practice, telling the difference between a birth defect and a birth injury can be difficult. Cerebral palsy, for example, can be caused by genetic mutations that occur long before a mother enters the delivery room. But the condition can also be caused by birth asphyxia, which is itself the result of medical negligence in some cases.
To complicate the picture, some birth defects can be caused by medical malpractice. Many pharmaceutical drugs, for example, have damaging effects on fetal development. These “teratogens” can cause congenital abnormalities when prescribed to pregnant women. In some cases, healthcare professionals – along with pharmaceutical manufacturers – can be held accountable for negligently prescribing these drugs during pregnancy.
Q. What Causes Birth Injuries?
In general, birth injuries can be caused by direct physical trauma, medication errors, or mismanaged complications of pregnancy. Even the most skilled physicians cannot prevent harm befalling a newborn in particularly difficult circumstances. But birth injuries can also be caused by negligent healthcare professionals – doctors who make an incompetent mistake, or nurses who fail to communicate emergency situations properly.
Most birth injury malpractice lawsuits involve a serious medical error, from failing to diagnose a maternal health condition to pulling a baby’s head with excessive force during a difficult delivery. Most lawsuits are filed over birth injuries that result in severe injuries, conditions that can lead to lifelong disability or cognitive impairment.
Q. Can Birth Injuries Cause Autism?
Autism spectrum disorders are still poorly-understood, but recent research has suggested that some forms of birth trauma, either during labor or delivery, may increase the risk for autism.
In a large meta-analysis for the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Miami reviewed evidence from 40 different studies to investigate the role of perinatal risk factors in predicting the likelihood of an autism diagnosis. “Birth injury or trauma” were among the factors, the authors wrote, that appeared to be associated with an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders.
Most important, the team said in an interview with WebMD, are forms of birth injury that involve oxygen deprivation. “Reduced oxygen supply, during labor, during delivery, during the prenatal period, during early infancy, could influence autism risk,” says Hannah Gardener, ScD, one of the study’s authors. While that’s far from definitive proof, it does open up a suggestive area for new research.
Q. What Is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice is the core concept in any viable birth injury lawsuit. Families will have to show that a medical professional’s actions – or failures to act – deviated from the “standard of care” in some way. After defining how a reasonable doctor should have acted under the circumstances, families need to demonstrate that their own doctor failed to act in the same way. Then comes the crucial step of proving that the doctor’s failure to act appropriately led directly to a child’s injuries.
To learn more about medical malpractice and how it works in a birth injury lawsuit, click here.
Q. How Do We Know That Medical Malpractice Caused Our Child’s Birth Injury?
While you may suspect that your doctor made a mistake during the delivery of your child, there’s no way to know with certainty until after a thorough investigation.
Some babies sustain injuries during birth that are tragic but ultimately unavoidable. Medical malpractice is what happens when harm could have been prevented under the circumstances, but a medical professional failed to prevent it.
Of course, doctors rarely admit that they made an error in treatment, so an experienced birth injury attorney will have to review the medical documentation from a birth to identify instances of malpractice. Independent medical experts will prove invaluable in doing this, and can also help families develop a plan for their child’s long-term care needs.
Q. Who Can File A Birth Injury Lawsuit?
Most birth injury malpractice lawsuits are filed by parents, who act as guardians on behalf of their child. In successful cases, however, the damages are usually awarded to the infant herself. Many families choose to have these damages placed in a special trust, which can provide for the child’s needs over the course of her lifetime.
Where wrongful death lawsuits are concerned, parents file the lawsuit on behalf of themselves, and are awarded applicable damages in their own names.
Q. How Much Compensation Is Available For Birth Injuries?
That all depends on the facts of your case. The financial compensation that could be available through a birth injury lawsuit is meant to make your family “whole” again, in so far as that is possible solely through monetary damages. In your case, you’ll have to prove that your family (both child and parents) suffered various forms of loss due to a medical professional’s negligence.
So what did you lose because of the birth injury? It’s probable that you’ve been forced to pay numerous medical bills that wouldn’t have been necessary unless your child was injured. At the same time, your child may require life-long medical treatment due to his or her injuries.
Most birth injury lawsuits demand compensation for past and future medical expenses, including surgical procedures, prescription drugs, doctor’s visits (along with transportation to and from necessary appointments), rehab services, physical and occupational therapies, home modifications and assistive technologies.
You’ve probably also been forced to lose out on time, along with the wages that could have been earned during that time. If you or your partner had to leave work to care for your child, you may be eligible to secure compensation to make up for those lost earnings. It’s also quite possible that your child, due to their medical condition, has lost out on the opportunity to maintain gainful employment in the future. A birth injury settlement or verdict can include damages to make up for that lost earnings potential, too.
So far, we’ve focused on “economic” damages, forms of loss that can be quantified. Birth injury lawsuits also make room for “non-economic” damages. So many children will secure compensation for the physical pain and emotional trauma they’ve experienced due to their injuries. Economic damages can also be assessed to cover the costs of emotional counseling, if applicable.
At this point, it should be clear that birth injury lawsuits offer a wide range of financial damages to families. And since most children who secure compensation through civil litigation have suffered life-long impairment, the final compensation amounts can be quite large.
Q. How Much Is A Birth Injury Settlement?
Most birth injury settlements begin in the millions of dollars, while some claims, especially when a doctor’s misconduct is deemed to have been particularly egregious, can soar up to $40 million or more. Needless to say, no past birth injury settlement or verdict can predict how much your family’s claim may be worth. In the end, it all comes down to the specific damages your family has incurred, along with the proportion of liability assessed to the defendant.
Q. How Much Will Filing A Lawsuit Cost?
At BirthInjuryAdvocate.com, our team of experienced medical malpractice attorneys works on a contingency-fee basis. You don’t owe us anything until we recover compensation to cover your child’s injuries and medical expenses.
Q. Is There A Time Limit?
Yes, but the time limit that applies in your child’s case will depend on the state in which malpractice occurred. Every state has a “statute of limitations,” which is like a legal deadline. For medical malpractice lawsuits, most injured patients have between one and three years to file a lawsuit, depending on where their healthcare was administered.
But cases involving injured infants and children are sometimes governed differently. In some states, parents will have up until their child’s 18th birthday to file a birth injury lawsuit. Again, that isn’t the case everywhere, and we urge you to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today to ensure that your family’s rights remain protected.
Q. I Signed A Consent Form Before Delivery. Does That Restrict My Family’s Rights?
No. By signing an informed consent document, you acknowledged that things can go wrong during labor or delivery. You did not give a medical professional the right to act negligently during childbirth. Signing an informed consent does not restrict your right to file a birth injury lawsuit.