Estimates vary, but somewhere in the area of 7 or 8 out of every thousand births involve injury to the child. Birth injuries are devastating to both parents and child. For the child, a significant injury like lack of oxygen (hypoxia) produces lifelong disabilities. For parents, the expected joy of a new baby rapidly changes to grief and indescribable worry.
Unfortunately, childbirth is a complex process that subjects the fetus to a combination of forces, including torque (twisting), compression, and traction. Conditions in the womb can compress the cord and deprive the baby of oxygen. The fetus may experience distress” that, if not quickly identified and rapidly relieved, can cause death or enormous neurological injury. Direct physical trauma can occur to the fetus from the natural forces as well as from physical efforts to maneuver the fetus down the birth canal.
Not every birth injury is indicative of medical malpractice, but many are. If it can be shown that the doctor, hospital, or staff did not deliver a lever of care consistent with that which is expected in the medical community, you may have grounds to recover money for your child in compensation for the injury.
Birth Injury Terms
To understand medical records and discussions about birth injuries, it helps to have a firm grasp on the various terms that the medical community uses to describe what most people think of simply as “the baby”:
- Fetus is the term used before birth, while gestating in the uterus.
- Neonate is the term used for the period immediately after birth, generally for the first 4 weeks.
- Infant is the term used from birth to roughly one year old.
Conditions That Increase Risk; Shoulder Dystocia
The risk of injury is elevated by various conditions, for example a particularly large fetus, a particularly small birth canal, difficult fetal position (such as feet first, called a footling breech presentation) and premature birth, before the fetus has reached maturity. But these are all conditions that obstetricians are trained to expect, identify, and deal with.
The term “shoulder dystocia” refers to the relatively common event of the child’s shoulder getting wedged behind the pelvis of the mother during delivery. All kinds of injuries can occur to the child (and the mother), including loss of oxygen to the brain and shoulder injuries.
Types of Birth Injuries: Brain Injury
The most significant birth injury is cerebral palsy (CP), which affects overall brain function and, specifically, movement. It’s a lifelong condition that significantly diminishes the victim’s quality of life, but doesn’t progress over time. The cause is lack of oxygen to the fetal brain, which can occur while in the womb, during delivery, or even after delivery.
Whether malpractice by the doctor or other medical people caused a specific case of CP is often the subject of extensive legal wrangling, because while malpractice certainly can cause it, so can several other conditions. The best evidence of malpractice is verifiable fetal distress during labor and delivery, which the doctor fails to address, either by correcting the cause of distress, or promptly performing a C-section delivery.
Other Common Injuries
The types of birth injuries are as numerous as the things that can go wrong during childbirth. Among the typical injuries are:
- Injuries to the brachial plexus affect the group of nerves that supply the upper limb. Erb’s palsy and Klumpke’s palsy are forms of this injury. The injury affects sensation and/or muscle strength and may be temporary or, less often, permanent. The injury occurs during difficult deliveries that stretch the child’s neck.
- Bone Fractures (especially the collarbone), bruising, and lacerations; often from use of forceps during delivery, but may be from other causes, like shoulder dystocia.
- Lung inflammation from breathing in the child’s own feces (meconium) during difficult labor; “meconium aspiration” needs to be addressed immediately to prevent serious injury and/or death.
Get Help for Your Child
Experience in handling birth injury cases is invaluable in pursuing a legal settlement. The cases are inevitably complex. Is the infant’s condition the result of a birth injury, or a result of a genetic birth defect? Did the doctor and/or hospital notify you immediately about the infant’s condition? What have they said about the condition’s cause, and is that claim backed up by the do the extensive records that accompany all births? What do the people present during the birth say about the events? What are the costs likely to be for a serious and lifelong injury?
Distraught parents of an injured infant need reliable and experienced legal help in dealing with these situations. Parents are at a distinct disadvantage given that almost all the records that document the birth are in the hands of the medical people who may have been responsible for the injury. It’s not uncommon for some of those records, often crucial records, to be missing. An experienced birth injury lawyer knows where other evidence showing the same thing might be located or, at the least, how to use the absence of a record that should be there to help build the case.
The medical people involved also understand a lot more about the nature of the injury than your average parent. Even if the doctor and/or hospital admits that something went wrong and has offered some kind of settlement, you need to make sure that you know as much as they do before signing anything.
Our Austin Birth Injury Attorneys Offer Free Consultations
Experienced birth injury lawyers understand the dilemma facing the parents of an injured newborn, and can take the legal problems off your plate, while keeping you fully informed about the progress. Give us a call at the Austin, Texas, law firm of Briggle & Polan, PLLC, for a free consultation. Tell us about what happened, and we’ll tell you what should happen next. It could make an enormous difference in the quality of your child’s future. Call today! 512-472-1926