Birth Injuries and Your Rights

Hospitals and medical professionals have a duty to provide reasonable care in labor and delivery. The vast majority of the time, doctors, nurses, and medical professionals act with extreme care for both mother and child.

However, mistakes can be made, and the consequences to mom and baby can be devastating, life-long, or even life ending. Furthermore, some of these mistakes could be covered up because the victims simply do not have the information to recognize the mistake.

How Do You Know Who Is at Fault in a Birth Injury?

There are instances when those responsible for care during pregnancy and childbirth may lead families to believe there was a genetic issue or something went awry in utero. But how would you know? Was the mother given too much medication during labor? Was a C-section ordered in time? Did the baby lack oxygen which can result in brain damage or cerebral palsy? Did the doctor pull or push on the baby’s neck too hard damaging nerves or the brain, which can lead to Erb’s palsy or shoulder dystocia?

Some families may never know the truth. The medical establishment may not always be forthcoming about their mistakes. We know how to try to get the answers families need and the compensation they potentially deserve. Your best bet is to recognize what the possible causes of a birth injury may be, and then act on that information.

Are Injuries to Mothers Common During Childbirth?

American women are six times as likely to die during the maternal period as mothers in Scandinavian countries and three times more likely than mothers in Canada. Nearly 60 percent of those deaths are preventable, according to a 2017 report.

NPR.org found some disturbing trends in the U.S. when they teamed up with ProPublica (a nonprofit nonpartisan investigatory journalism organization) to investigate maternal mortality in the U.S.:

  • More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. The rate of women dying is only rising in the U.S.
  • There's a hodgepodge of hospital protocols for dealing with potentially fatal complications, allowing for treatable complications to become lethal.
  • Hospitals — including those with intensive care units for newborns — can be woefully unprepared for a maternal emergency.
  • Federal and state funding show only 6% of block grants for "maternal and child health" actually go to the health of mothers. Obviously, funding can change year to year, but there is obviously not a focus on moms’ health.
  • In the U.S., some doctors entering the growing specialty of maternal-fetal medicine were able to complete that training without ever spending time in a labor-delivery unit.

If you or someone you love was injured after giving birth and while still in the care of a hospital, you should absolutely contact a personal injury attorney.

What Are the Common, Preventable, or Treatable Threats to a Mother’s Health?

The medical staff should be familiar with, and be able to address, well-known complications that threaten the health of the mother both during and after childbirth. Here are a few:

Postpartum Cardiomyopathy and other heart problems – According to heart.org, postpartum cardiomyopathy is a, “form of heart failure that happens during the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after giving birth. Cardiomyopathy literally means heart muscle disease.” The heart chambers enlarge and muscle weakens, reducing blood flow and the supply of oxygen to the organs.

Massive hemorrhage – Postpartum hemorrhaging can have many causes and is considered an obstetric emergency. It is one of the top five causes of maternal mortality worldwide.

Blood clots – After giving birth, some bleeding and passing of clots are expected as the mother’s body transitions. However, blood clots in the mother’s veins are a serious threat. During pregnancy, a mother’s body produces more clotting factors to protect itself during childbirth, so the risk is higher in the weeks following delivery, and mothers should be in regular contact with their doctors.

Infections – A puerperal infection occurs when bacteria infect a woman’s uterus and surrounding tissues after giving birth. Infections are responsible for about 10% of postpartum deaths in the U.S. There are a few common types:

- endometritis: an infection of the uterine lining
- myometritis: an infection of the uterine muscle
- parametritis: an infection of the areas around the uterus

Pregnancy-induced hypertension (preeclampsia) – This is a form of high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy, and must be treated carefully. It can persist after birth. The condition is characterized by damage to other organ systems, usually the liver or kidneys.

Doctors and hospitals should know what to watch for to keep new mothers safe from common postpartum issues. If you of someone you know was injured or suffered postpartum complications due to the negligence of those charged with their care, contact a personal injury attorney to discuss the facts of your case.

What Are the Common Injuries to Baby?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the most common reason birth injuries occur is due to communication errors among the delivery team. Whether a misdiagnosis, medication error, or inattention to signs of fetal distress, errors can have lifelong financial, physical, and emotional consequences. Here are some of the more common diagnoses that can potentially stem from injuries during birth.

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects control of muscle coordination and bodily movement. Most children with cerebral palsy have it at birth, yet symptoms may not be diagnosed for a few years.

While cerebral palsy can be the result of many causes, unfortunately medical mistakes during childbirth can be counted among them. Here are some indicators to look for – in utero or during delivery – that can potentially result in trauma and a cerebral palsy diagnosis:

  • Baby’s heart rate is too fast or too slow
  • Umbilical cord causes lack of oxygen to the baby
  • C-section is not ordered in time
  • Baby is too large for a vaginal birth or too small to be born safely
  • Infections the mother had during pregnancy

Delay in Ordering a Cesarean Section (C-section)

If a child suffers from distress during the birthing process, doctors will often order an emergency C-section. It might be ordered if the baby’s heart rate slows as a result of the mother’s drop in blood pressure due to blood loss, slowed labor, uterine rupture, or many other delivery issues.

Timing is crucial. Delayed C-sections can result in a host of problems, the most dangerous of which is lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain (hypoxia). If the C-section is ordered too late, consequences could include:

  • Brain damage that can result in mental deficiencies
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Erb’s palsy
  • Lung or heart problems
  • Stroke
  • Death

Improper Use of Forceps or Vacuum

When a baby has difficulty exiting the birth canal the doctor may use forceps, vacuums, or other tools as an aid. When used improperly, these tools could harm the child.

Vacuum Use
Improper use of these tools can cause complications including:

  • Fractured skull
  • Hemorrhaged retina
  • Brachial plexus (shoulder dystocia and Erb’s palsy)
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Cerebral palsy

If not treated, some of these conditions can lead to paralysis, intellectual disability, and in the case of a hemorrhage, death.

Forceps Use
If these tools are not employed properly, a baby could suffer neck, spine, or brain damage, potentially resulting in:

  • Facial nerve damage
  • Spinal cord damage which could lead to partial or complete paralysis
  • Brain damage which can lead to loss of motor functions including cerebral palsy

Improper forceps use can also harm the mother, causing complications or injuries including:

  • Rupture of the uterus
  • Urethra, bladder, and genital tract damage
  • Weakening of the pelvic area
  • Blood loss resulting in anemia

Spinal Cord Injuries

Whether a bruise, complete severance, or misdiagnosis of a spinal cord deformation in utero, spinal cord injuries can lead to life-long problems. Some are treatable, some are not.

Some of the factors that may lead to spinal cord injury include difficult delivery, breech birth and other abnormal birth positions, the torque and stresses on the baby’s spine during birth or the doctor pulling and pushing, and hyperextension of the baby’s head, among other things.

Erb’s Palsy or Brachial Plexus Injury (BPI)

Erb’s palsy is a form of nerve damage involving the brachial plexus nerves – the nerves that travel down the arm from the spinal cord. It affects the movement of a child’s upper arm, and it can also impact movement and rotation of the lower arm. Erb’s palsy generally occurs when:

  • The baby is exiting the birth canal as the head is turned in one direction, while the arm is being pulled in the opposite direction
  • Excessive pulling on the baby’s shoulders
  • When the baby is delivered breech

Facial Paralysis

Paralysis of the face, either fully or partially, can occur after some deliveries. If doctors are not careful handling your baby in the delivery room, your child’s facial nerve can be temporarily or permanently damaged. This type of paralysis is most noticeable when an infant cries.

Other Birth Injuries and Complications

  • Anesthesia-related complications
  • Aspiration of Meconium
  • Brain damage or head trauma
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Injuries resulting from Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Thalassemia
  • Torticollis (wry neck)

Failures By Medical Professionals That Can Cause Injuries

  • Failing to record or properly address fetal changes
  • Failure to closely monitor diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, thyroid disease and other conditions
  • Failure to deliver the baby in a timely manner
  • Failure to diagnose birth defects that could have been treated in utero
  • Failure to perform proper pre-natal testing
  • Failure to properly monitor the baby during labor and delivery
  • Failure to recognize an ectopic pregnancy
  • Inadequately monitoring the mother during pregnancy and labor
  • Misinterpreting test results during pregnancy or failing to conduct necessary tests
  • Neglecting to perform required tests
  • Neglecting to refer high-risk patients to specialists
  • Prescribing experimental drugs without properly informing patient of the associated risks

Get a Free Case Evaluation From Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys

Birth injuries may have a wide range of life-altering consequences on the baby and family. If you or your baby suffered an injury during birth or in utero, or you know someone who did, contact us immediately or call 1-866-900-7078. An experienced team of professionals will evaluate the unique circumstances of your birth injury case for free and let you know if you may have a claim. You may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of care and family duties
  • Punitive damages
  • Wrongful death
  • Funeral expenses for the mother or baby

The Law Offices of James Scott Farrin consults with a national network of attorneys on product liability, defective drugs, and defective products cases in an attempt to provide the best representation we can for our clients. Depending on the details of your case, our firm will likely refer your matter to another law firm with which we associate. We will only do this if we believe it is in your best interests and if you agree.