When your child is being delivered in the hospital, the last thing you expect to hear is that your baby was born with complications that may affect them for the rest of their life. Birth injuries, while rare, can happen—and are oftentimes completely preventable. If your child was born with an injury they received during delivery, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the institution that allowed the injury to occur. A Baltimore birth injury lawyer from Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC can help you through this process.
Birth injuries, often referred to as birth traumas, are injuries or traumas that are sustained before, during, or after the process of labor and delivery. Birth injuries can range from broken bones or damaged limbs to brain damage from lack of oxygen to the brain. According to research, six out of every 1,000 births results in birth injury. This means that roughly three births every hour in the U.S. result in injury—some of which can be prevented.
Knowing that your child has a birth injury can be devastating for a parent or family. Many birth injuries cause a child to suffer developmentally for months, years, or even their lifetime. Babies born with birth injuries may be permanently or partially disabled for the rest of their lives and may require lifelong medical care, therapy, and/or mobility assistance.
There are two types of birth injuries—those that can be prevented and those that cannot. When the trauma could have been prevented, it may be legally determined that the trauma was caused by negligence on behalf of the labor and delivery team, a doctor, a nurse, or another medical professional that did not follow their correct duty of care in taking care of your child or the child’s mother.
This type of negligence can take many forms—from a technician who failed to correctly monitor your baby’s oxygen level to a nurse who incorrectly used a tool in the delivery room or a doctor who delayed performing a C-section for too long. All these examples can lead to devastating consequences to a fragile, newborn child.
In the legal world, when a birth injury is caused by the negligence or carelessness of a professional, we say that medical malpractice may have occurred. In this situation, it may be possible for a family to file a civil lawsuit against the institution or individual that allowed the negligence to happen. All doctors, nurses, technicians, and other employees have a responsibility to provide quality standards of care to all expecting mothers and their newborn infants. When this duty is failed, legal action may be an option.
First, let’s go over some basic facts about birth injuries, how they are often caused, and what complications they commonly result in for the child.
What Causes Most Birth Injuries?
Birth injuries can be caused by many factors, but most birth traumas—including those that are malpractice-related—are caused by a handful of common situations and circumstances that can occur before, during, and immediately following labor and delivery:
- Prematurity. When a child is due to be born prematurely, precautions must be taken to ensure the child is properly taken care of. When these precautions aren’t taken, or a doctor responds too late to a premature birth, the infant can needlessly suffer from respiratory distress syndrome or other complications.
- Extended Labor. Prolonged or extended labor is defined as labor that lasts longer than 14-21 hours. A labor process longer than this can be dangerous for the baby and may result in complications.
- Hypoxic Ischemia. This complication occurs when a child is deprived of oxygen during the delivery process or immediately before it. After mere minutes of being denied oxygen, an infant can begin to suffer from irreversible brain damage.
- Fetal Distress. This is a condition where the infant is in distress for one or more reasons. When this happens during the delivery process, a doctor or delivery team must act immediately to help the baby. Waiting even a minute too long—such as in the case of an infant being deprived of oxygen—can lead to serious complications.
- Birth Infections. Infections that are contracted during the birthing process, if left untreated, can lead to serious consequences like brain injury. Common delivery infections include rubella, bacterial infections, and cytomegalovirus.
- Dystocia. This is often referred to as “obstructed” labor and occurs when the infant’s shoulder has difficulty passing through the mother’s pelvic bones after the head is delivered. If a doctor fails to properly respond to dystocia, the infant’s umbilical cord can become compressed or damaged, threatening the life of the child. This complication can lead to Erb’s palsy, cerebral palsy, or Klumpke’s paralysis.
- Improper Use of Tools. When a doctor or delivery technician fails to correctly use birthing forceps or uses too much force during delivery, they may permanently hurt the child or even cause paralysis.
- Failing to Prepare for a C-section. The hospital staff should take precautions to prepare for a C-section if one ends up being needed. If the mother’s pelvis is smaller than the expected size of the infant, for example, a C-section should be recommended. Failing to take proper precautions can lead to injuring both the parent and child.
In addition to the above list, anytime the infant or mother becomes distressed during the labor and delivery process, action needs to be taken immediately to protect both the baby and mother. If the hospital staff fails to do so or fails to properly monitor both to watch for signals of distress, the staff may be able to be held legally liable if injury occurs as a result of the delay. An experienced team of birth injury lawyers can help you hold a single staff member accountable if they are found liable or an entire delivery team.
How Does Infant Brain Damage Occur?
Brain damage is often caused by oxygen deprivation (often referred to as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE). If medical professionals aren’t carefully keeping track of the baby’s vitals throughout delivery, the infant could suffer from oxygen deprivation that gives them an injury or disorder that will cause health complications for the rest of their life.
A baby may be born with jaundice, a treatable condition that occurs when a baby’s liver makes too much bilirubin, a yellow pigment. Doctors need to act quickly to treat the baby. If it’s untreated, there’s a chance the baby could get brain damage and a condition called kernicterus, which they would have for the rest of their life. Those with kernicterus may suffer from intellectual disabilities, hearing loss, or athetoid cerebral palsy. The person could also have difficulty with sight and dental issues.
Brain damage can also occur during the mother’s pregnancy. If the expecting mother contracts an infection, medical professionals need to treat the infection in a way that helps the mother and brings no harm to the baby. However, negligent doctors may prescribe a medication that’s unsafe for the baby and causes brain injuries.
Knowing that your child has to live with a disability that they would never have gotten had medical staff been responsible is painful. But your birth injury lawyer in Baltimore will do everything possible to get you the compensation you need so you can give your child the care they deserve.
Unfortunately, medical professionals may make mistakes that cause other forms of birth trauma. It’s important to know about what kind of birth injuries can occur.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
Birth injuries can come in many forms, but many tend to fall into certain categories or types characterized by the limitations and complications that result immediately or later in life for the child. Common types include the following:
- Brain injuries including traumatic brain injury and hemorrhaging
- Musculoskeletal injuries like fractures or broken bones
- Other types of infections
- Facial damage
- Brachial plexus injury which is commonly caused by shoulder dystocia
- Klumpke’s paralysis (paralysis of the forearm and hand muscles)
This is an injury that damages the nerves that are responsible for feeling and motion in the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. When these nerves are damaged, the baby will experience weakness or numbness in their arm. Signs of Erb’s palsy are if an infant doesn’t reach for objects, move their arm, or clearly favors one over the other.
Some nerve injuries are treatable, but not all. Neurapraxia, a stretch injury to the nerve, can heal within three months. Neuroma is also a stretch injury that affects the nerve fibers. Scarring may occur and may not completely heal, but recovery is possible.
A rupture is when the nerve is torn and will need medical attention to heal. The most severe nerve injury is an avulsion, where the nerve is torn from the spinal cord. It’s impossible to reattach the nerve. However, there are some treatments that involve splicing a donor nerve graft from another nerve, which may help repair the avulsion and save some of the arm’s motor function.
When the brain is affected during birth, the infant could develop cerebral palsy, or CP. Those with CP may have problems with movement. Some may experience overly stiff muscles while others may not be able to walk or control limb movements.
There are different levels of severity with CP as well. Some people may need equipment to help them remain mobile, like a wheelchair, while others may be able to walk on their own.
Movement isn’t the only area affected. Those with CP may have seizures, issues with sensory input like vision or hearing, and they could have trouble with speech.
Most minor birth injuries will heal within the first few weeks after delivery. Minor injuries may include bruising and swelling. If your child does not heal within the first few weeks or shows signs of developmental delays or mobility impairment, these are signs that a much more serious birth injury may have occurred.
Regardless of the type of birth injury your child has sustained, we encourage you to get in touch with the skilled and compassionate Maryland birth injury lawyers at Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC if you feel the injury may have been caused by negligence inside the delivery room or elsewhere in the hospital. No child should have to suffer due to carelessness that took place within the walls of a medical facility.
Maryland Laws and Statutes for Birth Injury Claims
Like all types of personal injury cases, every state has specific laws that govern when a birth injury claim can be filed and who can file it. In Maryland, only certain parties can file a civil claim for malpractice-related birth trauma. In most cases, a child’s parents would be the primary party able to file suit. Parents can claim recovery for their child’s injuries as well as the emotional and mental anguish and distress they have suffered as parents.
The statute of limitations must also be considered. A statute of limitations is a time limit that must be met in order to successfully file a legal claim. In Maryland, a plaintiff has five years from the date of the birth injury to file a lawsuit with the help of a lawyer before the statute expires and a claim cannot be filed.
If a diagnosis of a condition is not made at the time of the injury but at an older age (for cerebral palsy, for example, which may not be discovered until a child is older), the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the discovery of the condition which the injury caused. In the case where a child passed away from the injury, a claimant has three years from the date of death to file what’s known as a wrongful death claim. In all cases, a claim must be filed before the child’s 11th birthday.
Moving Forward with the Help of a Baltimore Birth Injury Lawyer
If you’re a parent of a child who has suffered or was injured by a birth injury you believe was caused by negligence or carelessness in the hospital or delivery setting, you may be able to receive financial compensation that can be used to help your child receive the medical care they need to live a more comfortable life. A successful lawsuit may also let you get help paying for past, current, and future medical bills, pain and suffering costs, and more. In addition, a successful lawsuit sends a message hospitals and medical facilities cannot ignore: Quality care must be prioritized.
To learn more, we encourage you to get in touch with our birth injury lawyers in Baltimore today. Belsky Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC is ready to assist you with your potential case and help you get you and your child’s life back on track.