Can I File a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit for a Birth Injury?

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Birth injuries are devastating to expectant parents, and potentially life-threatening to the baby. These injuries can occur in utero, during the childbirth process, or shortly after delivery. While some birth injuries are fairly minor, and do not cause lasting health complications, others are much more serious and can compromise the baby’s quality of life. Depending on the injury, the baby may require multiple corrective surgical procedures, physical therapy, and even long-term care, all of which can be very costly for the parents. While not all birth injuries are caused by medical negligence, there are several types of birth injuries that are the result of a negligent medical mistake that could have been avoided. If this is the case, the parents may be eligible for financial compensation by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Common Risk Factors for Traumatic Birth Injuries

Even the healthiest pregnancy can develop minor complications at any point during childbirth or immediately after the baby is born. An obstetrician or midwife will monitor the health of the mother and baby throughout the pregnancy so that immediate steps can be taken to minimize the risk of a birth injury. The following are examples of common risk factors:

  • Abnormal or excessive pulling during pregnancy
  • Abnormal positioning during delivery, including breech or face delivery
  • Babies that are born earlier than 37 weeks
  • Cephalopelvic disproportion, which occurs when the shape and size of the woman’s pelvis is too small for a safe vaginal birth
  • Instrumental deliveries, including the use of forceps or a vacuum
  • Macrosomia, which occurs when the infant is too large for the delivery date. Babies with a birth weight of 8 pounds, 13 ounces are considered too large.
  • Prolonged labor

Different Types of Birth Injuries

There are a wide range of birth injuries, which generally fall into the following categories:

  • Brain injuries, intracranial hemorrhages, soft tissue injuries: These include injuries that cause bleeding to occur in the skull. Examples include the following:
    • Cerebral hemorrhage: This is a bleed that occurs within the brain.
    • Cerebral palsy (CP): This is a motor disorder that is caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain. It can occur in utero, during childbirth, after the baby is born, and up to age five. It is characterized by unusual or involuntary movements and can also involve joint and bone deformities. Oftentimes, people with CP also have epilepsy, vision and hearing problems, and cognitive impairments.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage: This is the most serious type of intracranial bleed because it affects the brain’s ventricular system, which is where the spinal fluid is produced. In most cases, this injury occurs in premature births and infants with a low birth weight.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: This is a bleed in the area between the arachnoid membrane and the covering that surrounds the brain.
  • Subdural hemorrhage: This occurs when there is a rupture of blood vessels in the subdural space.
  • Cephalohematoma: This is a bleed that occurs between the skull and its covering. It presents as a bump on the head shortly after birth and can last up to a few months after delivery.
  • Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE): This occurs when there is a lack of oxygen or blood flow during labor or delivery. It can cause mild to severe physical or mental impairments depending on how long the baby was deprived of oxygen or blood flow. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to perinatal hypoxic-ischemic conditions are at an increased risk for developing autism spectrum disorder. There may be a connection between autism spectrum disorder and HIE.
  • Peripheral nerve birth injury: Also known as Erb’s Palsy, this occurs when the nerves that control the arms and hands become injured. As a result, the infant is often unable to flex or rotate his or her arm. In most cases, the injury will resolve itself, but the injury can cause permanent damage if there is a torn nerve.
  • Cranial nerve and spinal cord birth injury: Anytime the baby is improperly pulled, stretched, or rotated during delivery, there is a risk of injury to the cranial nerve and spinal cord. Examples include:
    • Facial nerve paralysis: If the incorrect pressure is put on the face, or the wrong forceps are used during delivery, it can cause nerve damage to the face. While more mild cases can resolve naturally, surgery may be required in more serious cases.
    • Spinal cord injury: These can cause hemorrhages, respiratory failure, and weakness.
  • Bone birth injuries: These tend to occur during breech deliveries, shoulder dystocia births, or deliveries involving large infants. They can include the following types of fractures:
    • Long-bone fractures
    • Bone-cartilage separations
    • Clavicle or collarbone fractures
  • Intra-abdominal birth injuries: Fortunately, these are uncommon, but they can cause liver damage.

What Birth Injuries are Caused by Medical Negligence?

In some cases, birth injuries are the result of a genetic defect, and are no one’s fault. However, others are caused by negligent mistakes or oversights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study of common birth injuries that are caused by negligence, including the following:

  • Brachial Plexus Injuries: This can occur when the baby’s shoulder is caught behind the mother’s pubic bone. However, if the physician pulls too hard while delivering the baby, it can cause a brachial plexus injury.
  • Facial Paralysis: If a physician applies too much pressure on the baby’s face during delivery, it can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage, particularly when forceps or a vacuum is used during a difficult delivery. When an injury is caused by applying too much pressure during delivery, it may be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
  • Brain Injuries: When a physician fails to properly monitor the infant during or after childbirth, it can result in oxygen deprivation, which can cause a range of brain injuries, including cerebral palsy and chronic seizures. Other medical errors that can cause brain injuries include a prolapsed umbilical cord, which allows the baby to remain in the birth canal for too long or failing to order a Cesarean section when complications arise. Even mild oxygen deprivation can cause long term issues, including intellectual impairments and physical problems.
  • Fractures: This is another example of an injury that can occur when the physician pulls too hard during a difficult delivery. For example, if the baby is in a breech position, and the physician pulls too hard on the baby’s shoulder, it can cause a fracture to the clavicle. Fortunately, these injuries usually heal without major complications.
  • Cephalohematoma: The improper use of forceps can increase the risk of bleeding underneath the cranium. The bump that appears on top of the baby’s head usually clears up within several months. However, in some cases, it can cause jaundice, anemia, hypotension and, in rare cases, meningitis.
  • Caput Succedaneum: The most common cause of this injury, which is an intense swelling of the soft tissue in the infant’s scalp, is the improper use of a vacuum extraction tool. Swelling usually goes down after a few days, but in some cases, infants can develop jaundice and kernicterus, which is a preventable condition that can cause brain damage.
  • Delayed Delivery: Physicians are trained to recognize when a prompt delivery is necessary. Waiting too long to deliver a baby can cause health risks to the mother and the baby. The longer a physician waits to deliver the baby when there is fetal distress, the greater the risk of a birth injury.
  • Improper anesthesia administration: Improperly administered epidurals can cause low blood pressure in the mother, which can impact blood flow to the baby.

What Damages am I Entitled to for a Birth Injury?

If an infant suffers a birth injury as a result of medical negligence, or a mistake that could have been avoided, the parents may be eligible for financial compensation by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Depending on the nature of the injury, parents may receive the following damages:

  • General Damages: These costs cannot be quantified, but they have a significant impact on the victim’s quality of life. They include:
    • Physical and mental pain and suffering
    • Loss of enjoyment of life
    • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Special Damages: These are quantifiable expenses that include:
    • Medical expenses
    • Prescription medication
    • Physical therapy
    • Medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, ramps, and hospitals beds
    • Nursing care
    • Long-term care
  • Punitive Damages: These are rare, but they are awarded if the physician was aware that his or her behavior was harmful to the patient.

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Justice for Victims of Birth Injuries

If your baby suffered a serious birth injury, do not hesitate to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We understand how devastating these injuries are, and we will conduct a thorough investigation to determine who is responsible for jeopardizing the health of your baby. Our dedicated and compassionate legal team will assist you with the claims process and seek the maximum financial compensation you deserve. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.