Understanding Medical Malpractice Birth Injuries

Having a child suffer a preventable birth injury during the labor and delivery process is every parent's worst nightmare. Unfortunately, medical malpractice-caused birth injuries are an all-too-common occurrence in the United States. Of the nearly 4 million infants born each year, approximately 28,000 sustain a preventable injury during childbirth, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The injured infants and/or the parents of injured newborns as a result of medical malpractice may be entitled to compensation for a wide range of damages.  If you're considering taking legal action for a medical malpractice birth injury, here's some things you should know before proceeding.

How Birth Injuries and Birth Defects Differ

The terms “birth injuries” and “birth defects” may sound similar, but they're far from interchangeable. The primary difference between these two terms has to do with when the harm occurred. Birth defects occur while the fetus is growing and developing in the womb, and are often the result of genetic or environmental factors, while birth injuries happen during the labor and delivery process and may be caused by medical errors or malpractice on the part of doctors, nurses, orderlies, or other hospital staff.

Common Birth Injuries Associated With Medical Malpractice

Delayed birth, forced delivery, and failure to monitor the mother or fetus can result in serious birth injuries.  According to the AHRQ, the following 10 types of birth injuries are those most commonly associated with medical malpractice:

  • Neonatal brachial plexus palsy. Also known as Erb's palsy, this injury occurs when the brachial plexus nerves around the upper arm and shoulder are injured during labor and delivery, which may cause weakness or reduced movement.
  • Bone fractures. When an infant is too large for the birth canal, his or her collarbone—or other bones—may fracture as the infant is squeezed through the birth canal. Careful fetal monitoring can often disclose the size of the infant thereby indicating that the infant was too big for a vaginal delivery. 
  • Cephalohematoma. Infants who sustain a head trauma during delivery may develop cephalohematoma, a subperiosteal hematoma that causes blood to pool between the skin and skull bone.
  • Caput succedaneum. This injury occurs when fluid builds up on an infant's skull, often due to a long and difficult vaginal birth, during which the infant's head is pressed against the uterus or vaginal wall.
  • Perinatal asphyxia. Caused by the deprivation of oxygen during the birthing process, this birth injury can cause long-term brain damage.
  • Intracranial hemorrhage. Head traumas during childbirth can cause an infant's brain to bleed abruptly and rapidly inside the skull.
  • Subconjunctival hemorrhage. Common after a long and stressful vaginal birth, subconjunctival hemorrhages are ruptured blood vessels that happen just under the eyes.
  • Facial paralysis. A rough vaginal delivery can also damage facial nerves, which may result in temporary or permanent facial paralysis.
  • Spinal cord injuries. Damage to the spinal cord can occur during long and difficult labors, especially those that require the use of tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors to complete the delivery.
  • Cerebral palsy. Caused by brain damage sustained during the labor or delivery process, cerebral palsy can affect numerous aspects of a child's development.

Proving Medical Malpractice in Birth Injury Cases

While receiving news of a poor health outcome can be devastating, not all poor outcomes constitute medical malpractice. In order to prove medical malpractice birth injury cases, plaintiffs must show, by a preponderance of evidence, that:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed between the plaintiff and the medical professional in question and, thus, the defendant owed the mother and infant a duty of care.
  • The hospital or medical professional named in the lawsuit breached that duty by providing substandard treatment.
  • The defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in causing the birth injury.
  • The plaintiff suffered quantifiable injuries and/or financial losses as a result.

In California, there is a further consideration prior to bringing a medical malpractice action for a birth injury.  California law prevents any injured person to recover more than $250,000.00 in pain and suffering or non-economic damage.  Any substantial judgment comes from future economic losses such as future medical care and assistance for the family to provide care for the injured child.

Consult an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney

If your child sustained a serious birth injury due to possible medical negligence do not delay taking action because critical information and witnesses will get lost over time.  The experienced medical malpractice attorneys with the Inland Empire Law Group can help you pursue compensation for economic and non-economic damages like medical expenses, support care, pain and suffering, and more. Contact the Inland Empire Law Group today at (888) 694-3529 or (909) 481-0100 to schedule a free appointment to evaluate your claim.  We are available for in home appointments or at one of our offices in Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville, California.