Pennsylvania is home to highly-ranked obstetrics and neonatal care programs. However, even at top hospitals, medical errors may happen. When a child goes through a preventable birth injury , the impact may last a lifetime.
Understanding Birth Injury
Birth injuries can be devastating and complex. Understanding them fully requires the help of professionals well-versed in the medicine behind the diagnoses.
Birth injuries may not be immediately apparent; sometimes parents begin to suspect that something is wrong once a child has begun to miss key developmental milestones like crawling, making eye contact, rolling over, talking, or learning language. There are three crucial things parents must remember:
- Birth injury is often preventable.
- The sooner a birth injury is caught, the sooner treatment and therapy can start.
- The sooner intervention starts, the better long-term outcome the child will have.
When can birth injuries happen?
There are three periods of time that a birth injury can be suspected. These can be roughly divided into:
- During the prenatal period
- During and immediately after labor & delivery
- During a child’s growth and development
During the prenatal period
The prenatal period takes place before birth. While not a complete list, the following are common examples of risks and conditions which can be mishandled or not treated in time, leading to a child having a birth injury.
- Mother’s ‘water breaks’ early (premature rupture of membranes)
- Mother has one of a high-risk health condition, but is not referred to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist for further care
- Mother has an infection like chorioamnionitis/villitis, Group B strep, a UTI, a sexually transmitted infection (disease), or bacterial vaginosis that isn’t caught in time
- Issues with the umbilical cord (e.g. the cord was too long, too short, wrapped around the baby’s neck, or knotted) that weren’t detected until labor
- Baby is too small (intrauterine growth restriction,) or too large (macrosomia) to tolerate labor well
- Mother is diagnosed with placenta previa and undergoes a vaginal birth
- The pregnancy lasted more than 40 weeks
During and immediately after labor and delivery
Some of the most common events during and after labor and delivery that appear in birth injury cases include:
- Baby shows signs of fetal distress
- Baby has seizures
- Baby has an infection like herpes encephalitis, meningitis, sepsis, or pneumonia
- Baby breathed in meconium while in the womb
- Baby’s blood sugar was too low in the first few days after birth (neonatal hypoglycemia)
- Baby had yellow skin and eyes (jaundice or kernicterus)
- Baby couldn’t breathe after birth
- Baby required a NICU stay
- Baby was diagnosed with:
- Baby got stuck during labor or could not fit safely through the birth canal
- Baby required cooling therapy
- Attempts at vaginal labor were followed by a delayed emergency C-section
- Baby didn’t cry at birth
- Baby was limp, cool, blue, pale, and/or unresponsive at birth
- Medical staff used forceps or a ventouse (vacuum extractor) during birth
- Baby was born prematurely
- Baby’s heart rate dropped during labor
- Mother had a mishandled placental abruption or uterine rupture
- Mother was given Pitocin or Cytotec to speed up labor
During a child’s growth and development
Sometimes, birth injuries are not evident until the child misses important stages in their development, or begins to struggle in school. The following are a few signs that a child may have experienced an injury at birth:
- Evidence of cerebral palsy
- Developmental delays
- Baby develops an early preference for one hand over another
- Child shows signs of intellectual disability
If any of these events occurred during your child’s development and growth, talking to an attorney who specializes in birth trauma cases can help you understand what happened.
Pennsylvania Hospitals and NICUs
There are dozens of NICUs (neonatal intensive care units) located within the state of Pennsylvania. Nearly all babies who sustain any type of birth injury are sent to the NICU for medical care.
Care services and procedures offered through NICUs can include therapeutic hypothermia (a kind of brain treatment that helps minimize brain damage from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy), supportive services, premature birth care, and breathing assistance. Not all NICUs are equipped to provide all kinds of care, so it’s important to research hospitals individually to evaluate whether they can provide both critical and appropriate care to your child. Level III or Level IV NICUs provide the specialized care that a baby with a birth injury typically needs.
According to standards of medical care, all hospitals, medical centers, and birthing facilities must provide immediate access to emergency labor, delivery, and neonatal medical services. If a given medical facility does not provide these services or facilities in-house, said facility must provide immediate transportation to one that does.
The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but we have compiled a list of several hospitals in Pennsylvania with Level III or IV NICU designations:
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP Newborn Care)
- Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
- St. Luke’s Hospital-Bethlehem Campus
- Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital
- Chester County Hospital
- PinnacleHealth (Harrisburg).
- Einstein Medical Center (both Philadelphia and Montgomery locations)
Pennsylvania Military Hospitals
Litigating military medical malpractice differs in some aspects from ‘regular’ civilian medical malpractice. If your child had a birth injury at a military medical hospital, it is important to choose a birth injury attorney with experience in litigating both birth injury law and military medical malpractice. We at ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.) have attorneys that are well-versed in cases at the intersection of military medical malpractice and birth injury.
Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations (SOL)
Families of children with birth injuries have a certain amount of time to file a case (determined by a ‘statute of limitations’ aka SOL), which varies on a state-by-state basis. Because of these interrelated factors, having a lawyer who focuses only on birth injury is invaluable. It is critical to discuss a potential case with an attorney as soon as possible – in Pennsylvania, parents have two years from the date of the injury to file a claim on their own behalf. For a child injured at birth, parents have until that child’s 20th birthday to pursue a case.
Birth injury cases can take years to litigate. Sometimes, an injury is not evident until a child begins to miss important milestones in their development. It’s important to talk to a birth injury attorney as soon as malpractice or negligence is suspected.
About ABC Law Centers
Attorneys at ABC Law Centers focus solely on birth injury cases and have a network of renowned medical, economic and forensics experts at our side. Our attorneys are consistently recognized for their hard work in the birth injury arena and we have an extensive track record in providing help to families affected by birth injuries. We provide personalized attention to our clients and keep them informed throughout each step of the legal process. We do not charge any fees for the entire legal process unless we win.