Guest Post: Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice
The birth of a child is normally a time of joy for parents and most babies are delivered safely and in good health. Unfortunately, there is a risk that something can go wrong during the pregnancy or delivery that leads to birth injuries. Given that women are conditioned to apologize when things go wrong, some mothers may blame themselves for injuries to their newborns. However, self blame is harmful and ultimately conceals the painful truth: birth injuries are often the result of the negligence of doctors, hospitals or other medical providers.
In short, injuries to newborns may be caused by a doctor’s failure to adequately foresee or respond to problems during childbirth, the improper use of medical devices, or poor prenatal care. If your newborn suffered an injury you may have grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. In order to have a valid claim, however, it is necessary to demonstrate that the medical provider’s conduct during the pregnancy or delivery fell below the appropriate standard of care.
Types of Birth Injuries
There is a difference between birth injuries and birth defects. Birth injuries arise due to complications during labor or delivery while birth defects are associated with harm to a fetus either before or during the mother’s pregnancy. While birth injuries may be the result of an improper medical technique or use of a medical device, birth defects can be caused by a variety of factors whether environmental or hereditary.
Generally, birth injuries are referred to as trauma, that is cuts, fractures or other injuries to a baby that occur during labor or delivery. Birth trauma is more common during deliveries of larger or heavier babies because doctors must use their hands, forceps or vacuums to help the newborn pass through the birth canal. If the doctor uses too much force or misuses a medical device trauma can occur.
In addition, birth trauma is often seen in premature births (babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy), during prolonged or difficult labor, or from abnormal fetal position (breech birth).While most neonatal injuries involve a baby’s head neck and arms, any part of the body can be damaged. Some common birth injuries include:
• Bruising and broken bones
• Oxygen deprivation
• Nerve damage
Depending on the severity and cause of the injuries, some newborns may heal without medical treatment. On the other hand, medical conditions can arise that lead to permanent injuries and the need for lifelong care. In particular, oxygen deprivation before or during birth can damage part of a baby’s brain that controls body motor functions often leading to cerebral palsy.
Nerve damage can be equally devastating. If a facial nerve is damaged during delivery, the baby can develop Bell’s palsy or facial paralysis. While this can be caused by pressure during the baby’s passage through the birth canal, a doctor’s improper use of forceps can also cause nerve damage. If the nerve is only bruised, it will eventually heal without treatment. A torn nerve, however, often requires surgery to restore muscular function.
A more significant type of nerve damage is a brachial plexus injury in which the nerves connecting the spinal cord to the newborn’s baby’s arms and hands are damaged. These injuries are often seen in difficult births when a shoulder gets trapped and the doctors pulls too hard on an arm to remove the baby. If the nerves are torn, the damage may be permanent.
Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice
Regardless of the cause, birth injuries can be devastating to the child and the parents, and even more so if the harm was caused by a medical provider’s incompetence or negligence. Not only must doctors provide the appropriate standard of care during the pregnancy and the delivery, they must be proactive when treating mothers and recognizing potential medical risks.
In order to pursue a claim against the obstetrician or the hospital at which the baby was delivered, it is necessary to show that the doctor failed to provide you and your baby adequate medical care and that failure caused your child’s injury. These cases often require working with a medical expert who can testify about what the appropriate standard of care is and how your doctor failed to meet this standard.
If your newborn suffered avoidable harm due to negligent care, you may be able to recover meaningful compensation. Of course, no amount of money can undo your child’s suffering and the emotional burden that you are bearing. However, doctors who breach their duty must be held accountable, and recovering damages can help to compensate for medical expenses, pain and suffering and loss of future earning capacity. Any highly skilled personal injury attorney can offer you knowledge and compassion to guide you through this difficult time.