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. 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 levels 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.
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.
Causes of Most Birth Injuries
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. 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.
Preventing Labor and Delivery Errors
If you’re expecting a child, it’s important to know that there are steps your doctor can take to reduce the risk of causing a mistake during pregnancy or labor and delivery. First, it’s crucial that proper prenatal care is provided. This will assess the health of both the mother and baby. Prenatal testing can provide information on maternal conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, as well as a wide variety of fetal issues like heart rate abnormalities and umbilical cord problems.
Throughout pregnancy and during labor, physicians need to be able to detect and address signs of fetal distress including decreased movement, abnormal heart rate, abnormal amniotic fluid volume, vaginal bleeding, cramping, and insufficient or excessive maternal weight gain. Premature birth should be prevented, if possible. If it’s inevitable, however, doctors need to take steps to minimize the chance of harm to the baby by accelerating lung development and suppressing labor to protect the brain.
In the event a natural birth could be dangerous or is deemed impossible, a C-section delivery will be necessary. Doctors need to be aware of the signs indicating a C-section and should determine if there are ways of getting the baby out using less invasive interventions.
If a baby is born early, it’s crucial they receive proper care in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). NICU babies are fragile and may have a number of conditions that need to be dealt with. If the best care is not provided, mistakes regarding resuscitation and failure to diagnose a condition are possible.
If an error does occur during the labor and delivery process, the infant could be diagnosed with a number of conditions depending on the injury.
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:
- Cerebral Palsy. When the brain is affected during birth, the infant could develop cerebral palsy. Those with CP may have problems with movement like overly stiff muscles, while others may not be able to walk or control limb movements. Equipment, like a wheelchair, may be needed to remain mobile. Seizures, issues with sensory input like vision or hearing, and trouble with speech is also a possibility.
- Brachial Plexus Palsy. The brachial plexus is a group of nerve fibers that runs from the spine through the neck and arms. If there is excessive stretching or force during labor, like with forceps or a vacuum extraction tool, the nerve fibers can be damaged. There are several types of brachial plexus injuries, including Erb’s palsy.
- Erb’s Palsy. 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 this are if an infant doesn’t reach for objects, move their arm, or clearly favors one over the other. Unfortunately, not all nerve injuries are treatable. It depends on what has happened to the nerves and how long the damage has gone unnoticed.
- Klumpke’s Paralysis. This is a type of brachial plexus injury that affects the lower portion of the nerve fibers. Paralysis in the forearm and hand are possible. It can happen if the infant’s shoulder gets caught on the pubic bone during delivery.
- Facial Paralysis. If the seventh cranial nerve is damaged before or during delivery because of excessive pressure, the infant may experience the loss of controllable muscle movement in their face.
- Broken Bones. A broken clavicle is the most common type of fracture during delivery; however, the arms, wrists, feet, ankles, legs, hips, back, or neck could also sustain injuries. Broken bones can happen when doctors fail to recognize and respond properly to a breech birth, when the labor goes on for too long, or if aggressive delivery techniques are used.
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.
Infant Brain Damage
In addition to the injuries above, infant brain damage is a serious issue. It 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.
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.
Investigating and Proving Labor and Delivery Mistakes
Once you seek legal representation and have your claim evaluated, it’ll be time to gather the evidence to prove your case. There are a number of elements that a birth injury case requires that your lawyer can help you prove:
- An injury occurred
- The medical care provider had a duty to your child
- The doctor failed to meet that standard
- The failure caused the injury
Birth injury cases require a lot of evidence. Evidence can come from medical records and testimony by eyewitnesses and experts. Test results from X-rays, MRI scans, and more can be used. If your lawyer locates an expert to speak on your behalf, they can go into what the average doctor would have done if faced with a similar situation and how your doctor did not practice within those standards.
It’s a good idea to keep track of notes on doctor’s appointments, follow-ups, medications, therapy, and other care your child may need as a result of their injury. With this information compiled, your attorney will be able to present a strong case for you and your child that shows where your doctor went wrong.
Damages for Childbirth Injuries
If it is determined that your doctor acted negligently and made a labor and delivery error, you may be eligible for compensation to aid with the costs associated with the injury your child sustained. If the bills are extensive, you may be wondering how much compensation your family will be eligible to get. While we cannot give you an exact amount, it’s likely you’ll be eligible for monetary awards in the following areas:
- Medications, doctors visits, hospital visits, and any medical treatments or procedures associated with the injury
- Occupational and physical therapy
- Home accommodations
- Special education costs, psychological services, counseling
With the damages listed above, it’s important to not think only about the money you’ve spent, but the money you will have to spend to maintain your child’s quality of life. If there will be lifelong costs associated with caring for your child’s medical condition, we can make sure those numbers are estimated and that you receive compensation so you never have to worry about providing your child with the best care possible.
Damages like medical bills and cost of care are considered economic, meaning they can be calculated. Your family may also be eligible, however, for noneconomic damages. These cannot be calculated and are often determined by a jury. They include pain and suffering and emotional turmoil.
You don’t have to worry about affording an attorney up front, as we operate on a contingency-fee basis. This means we won’t get paid until you win your case. We will discuss fees with you so there won’t be any surprises later on.
Moving Forward with the Help of Belsky, Weinberg & Horowitz, LLC
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.
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 Baltimore birth injury lawyers 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.