​Medical Negligence Can Lead to Birth Injuries

​Medical Negligence Can Lead to Birth Injuries
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The arrival of a new baby is one of the most exciting and joyful times in the lives of parents, or at least it should be. Most of the time, new parents can take their bundle of joy home and settle in within days of the little one’s arrival. But sometimes joy turns to pain and anguish when a newborn suffers a birth injury.

Birth injuries can occur at various points during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.  Although some birth injuries are unavoidable, many are the result of actions taken by a negligent medical professional. Negligent doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals can create dangerous conditions for pregnant mothers or make critical errors during labor and delivery that lead to preventable birth injuries.

If your OB/GYN or other medical practitioner provided substandard care during pregnancy or their negligence led to an injury during labor or delivery, Michigan law permits you to bring a malpractice lawsuit to seek compensation.

Money cannot undo the suffering and damage you and your baby suffered, but it can fund any needed treatment and reduce the financial stress from taking time off work to care for your injured baby. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you hold the doctor or other medical professional accountable for their negligence that led to your child’s birth injuries.

Until you have the chance to meet with a lawyer, this guide provides some introductory information about medical negligence and how it relates to birth injuries. We also take a closer look at specific types of birth injuries and the legal process of seeking compensation for birth injuries.

What Is Medical Negligence?

Medical professionals have a legal duty to provide a certain standard of care to their patients. Doctors and other medical professionals who do not meet the standard accepted in the medical community when diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients are negligent or commit malpractice. Negligence can be taking certain actions or failure to act and may appear to be intentional or accidental.

Examples of medical negligence that can lead to serious and fatal birth injuries include:

  • Improper use of extraction vacuums, forceps, and other birthing tools
  • Failure to diagnose or recognize symptoms of fetal distress during pregnancy and labor
  • Failure to perform the right tests during pregnancy
  • Inadequate prenatal care
  • Failure to treat a fetus in distress
  • Failure to perform a C-section when needed
  • Failure to monitor a newborn’s oxygen levels
  • Improper administration of an epidural
  • Cutting the umbilical cord too quickly after birth, effectively cut off the newborn’s oxygen supply

Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) is the state licensing authority for medical and healthcare-related licenses. They investigate complaints of malpractice and negligence, including those involving birth injuries. Your lawyer will advise you on the best course of action to take if medical negligence led to a birth injury, but you can get a head start by filing a complaint with LARA about your baby’s birth injury.

Birth Injuries Stemming from Pregnancy Complications

​Medical Negligence Can Lead to Birth Injuries

The majority of birth injuries occur during labor and delivery, but pregnancy complications can cause damage to the fetus. Doctors have a legal obligation to recognize symptoms and diagnose pregnancy complications to avoid injuries to either mother or baby, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

The most common pregnancy complications that sometimes lead to birth injuries include:

  • Placenta previa. This condition is characterized by heavy bleeding. Placenta previa occurs when the placenta partially or fully covers the cervix. Without the proper diagnoses and treatment, placenta previa can lead to a placental abruption.
  • Placental abruption. A placental abruption refers to the full or partial separation of the placenta from the uterine wall before birth. A fetus loses nutrients and oxygen during a placental abruption, making it especially dangerous. Left untreated, the fetus and the mother can face death after a placental abruption.
  • Preeclampsia. High blood pressure characterizes preeclampsia, the most common pregnancy complication. Without treatment, mothers face liver and kidney damage. Doctors must monitor protein levels in the mother’s urine to ensure high blood pressure isn’t causing damage. Once levels reach a certain threshold, doctors need to immediately deliver the baby to avoid injury or death.

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Newborns Can Suffer Various Types of Birth Injuries

If medical professionals make errors or fail to uphold the expected standard of care during labor and delivery, they put the fetus at risk for serious birth injuries. Stanford Medicine reports the following common birth injuries:

Cerebral Palsy

The most common childhood motor disability is cerebral palsy (CP), and it is almost always preventable. Some children develop CP for unknown reasons, but those who develop congenital CP are often victims of medical negligence. Permanent brain damage that occurs during pregnancy, labor, or delivery often leads to congenital CP.

Brachial Plexus Palsy

Brachial Plexus Palsy, also referred to as Erb’s Palsy refers to a condition that affects the upper arm or both upper arms of an infant. The brachial plexus is the medical name for the collection of nerves that carry signals between the brain and the arms and hands.

Obstetricians, family doctors, midwives, or doulas can injure the brachial plexus when they improperly deliver a baby. The damage causes a baby to lose the function of their arm or shoulder, sometimes extending to the hand.

Caput Succedaneum

Caput Succedaneum refers to swelling on the scalp of a newborn, often caused by the improper use of an extraction vacuum to deliver a baby. The swelling usually comes with bruising and can create a cone-head appearance.

Most of the time, caput succedaneum goes away without treatment. However, it can lead to jaundice and other conditions that require immediate treatment. If doctors fail to treat these issues, permanent brain damage can occur.

Cephalohematoma

Another common birth injury is cephalohematoma, which is the name for a small mass under a newborn’ scalp that forms from a pool of blood. These masses develop when small blood vessels in the scalp rupture during delivery.

Cephalohematomas are harmless by themselves, but they can trigger other conditions and complications that harm a newborn. For example, the masses can cause small fractures in a baby’s skull, some of which could be serious because they won’t heal on their own. Undiagnosed cephalohematomas are very dangerous, especially if they do not go away after about 30 days. The masses can calcify and deform the skull, requiring major corrective surgery.

Horner’s Syndrome

Horner’s syndrome is the name for the condition that occurs when the nerves that connect the eyes and brain suffer damage. Newborns can suffer facial nerve damage from trauma during childbirth, leading to Horner’s syndrome. There is limited treatment for this condition. Sometimes the damage to the facial nerves will heal and symptoms will go away, but facial nerve damage is often permanent.

Fractures

Many newborns suffer fractures during childbirth. They might have a skull fracture, a facial fracture, or broken bones in other parts of their bodies. Sometimes fractures are impossible for doctors to avoid, but most of the time, fractures are preventable. Broken collarbones occur frequently, especially during a breech delivery.

Medical professionals have other options besides delivering a breech baby to avoid injury, especially with today’s medical technology. For example, a C-section is an option, and so is turning the baby in utero before delivery.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries are among the worst and most debilitating injuries a newborn can suffer during childbirth. The spinal cord is the “road” that carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body’s nervous system. A spinal cord injury prevents messages from going where they need to go in the nervous system, resulting in lost body function at and below the affected area of the spine. Newborns who suffer a spinal cord injury face permanent paralysis in some or all of their bodies.

Statute of Limitations for Michigan Birth Injury Cases

All states, including Michigan, implement laws about how much time someone has to bring a civil lawsuit, including medical negligence and medical malpractice claims. These time limits, called statutes of limitations, make it crucial to take action as soon as possible.

Birth injury cases fall under medical malpractice rules of procedure. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice is generally two years, but there are exceptions when minors are involved, if the injury is discovered much later after delivery, or for other circumstances. If you have any suspicion that your newborn, infant, toddler, or child suffered an injury during labor or delivery, or you or your partner did not receive proper care during pregnancy, it is best to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can review your case, determine your eligibility for compensation, and ensure you meet any legal deadlines, so you do not lose the chance to recover damages.

Suing for Damages After a Birth Injury

If you have a viable medical negligence claim for a birth injury, you could receive compensation for damages related to the injury. Medical negligence and malpractice cases are notoriously complex because multiple parties are often involved. Additionally, plaintiffs must follow procedural requirements that are not part of other personal injury claims. For example, a medical expert has to review your case and certify that it is a viable claim before you can file a lawsuit.

If your attorney negotiates a fair settlement or a court rules in your favor and awards damages, you (and/or your child) could receive compensation for:

  • Medical expenses, including hospitalization, surgery, diagnostic imaging, lab tests, medication, doctor visits, physical therapy, and travel expenses to and from the doctor or treating facility;
  • Estimated future medical treatment costs if the birth injury caused permanent damage requiring someone to need ongoing care and treatment;
  • Lost income for parents who need to take time away from work to care for an injured baby, toddler, or child;
  • Lost earning capacity for a child who will never be able to seek gainful employment because of their birth injury;
  • Pain and suffering; and
  • Reduced quality of life.

Michigan caps the amount of money someone can receive for pain and suffering and other noneconomic damages. However, certain injuries for example, brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries have a higher cap on noneconomic damages. These caps increase each year to keep up with inflation. Your lawyer can review your case and give you a better idea of what your birth injury claim is worth.

When Medical Negligence Leads to a Fatal Birth Injury

If you lost your baby because of a fatal birth injury or related complications caused by medical negligence, you also have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Parents can receive compensation for economic losses up until the time of death and lost future earning capacity, as well as compensation for a funeral or memorial service and burial or cremation. Sometimes, parents can also receive compensation for the mental anguish and loss of companionship that comes from losing a child.

An experienced birth injury attorney at Gruel Mills can review the facts of your case and advise you on the best way to recover damages after losing your child.

Get the Help You Need to Take Action After a Birth Injury From Medical Negligence

Scott R. Melton, Birth Injuries Lawyer
Scott R. Melton, Birth Injuries Lawyer

Parents face enormous emotional and financial challenges coping with the aftermath of a birth injury. In some situations, parents might not discover the injury until dealing with one or more missed developmental milestones.

The stress of trying to figure out why your baby or child is in pain or struggling is frustrating and heartbreaking, and it can be difficult to figure out how to help them.  Fortunately, you can protect your child’s rights when a hospital, doctor, or other medical professional doesn’t perform their duties adequately, or at all. You shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden of a birth injury when it occurs because of medical negligence. Contact the experienced and compassionate birth injury lawyers at Gruel Mills today to learn more about how they can help.