Each birth injury case is unique. However, there are specific types of errors and forms of medical malpractice that appear frequently in these lawsuits. These include the following:
Failing to provide proper fetal monitoring
It is very important that medical professionals evaluate the baby’s wellbeing throughout pregnancy as well as during the birthing process. This includes using a fetal heart rate monitor to check for fetal distress, or signs that a baby is being deprived of oxygen. Improper fetal heart rate monitoring can cause these signs of distress to go unnoticed, potentially resulting in a serious birth injury known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE occurs when there is a lack of oxygenated blood flow to a baby’s brain, and it can result in permanent disabilities such as cerebral palsy (CP) and epilepsy (1).
In addition to failing to provide proper fetal heart rate monitoring, doctors may also miss other signs of fetal distress or pending distress (i.e. complications that may quickly lead to distress) if they are not vigilant enough. These signs include the following, among others (2):
- Decreased fetal movement
- Abnormal amniotic fluid volume
- Abnormal results of a biophysical profile (BPP)
- Vaginal bleeding
- Maternal cramping
- Insufficient or excessive maternal weight gain
Failing to communicate with one another
In some cases, one medical professional may notice an issue, but fail to communicate it to the rest of the team. This can be very dangerous, especially if messages are not recorded and passed along during shift changes. A 2014 survey showed that nearly 60% of medical students thought that inadequate communication between care providers was the biggest obstacle in coordinating patient care (3).
Not obtaining informed consent
Before beginning a new procedure or treatment, doctors must obtain the patient’s “informed consent.” This means that they must explain the patient’s options in a way they will understand (which includes offering the services of a translator/interpreter in order to avoid language barriers), and allow the patient to make their own choice.
In some cases, including those involving young children or patients deemed incompetent, a parent or guardian will be asked to provide “informed permission” on their behalf (4).
Misdiagnosing or failing to diagnose a condition
If a doctor does not take a patient’s symptoms seriously, or fails to properly diagnose a condition, the consequences can be very serious. This is especially true in cases involving pregnancy or birth, where complications (especially those that cause fetal oxygen deprivation or birth asphyxia) can escalate to life-threatening medical emergencies extremely quickly.
Prescribing the wrong medication or dosage
Medication errors can lead to serious birth injuries, as well as harm to the mother.
Sometimes doctors give Pitocin or Cytotec in order to induce/enhance labor; these drugs can lead to hyperstimulation of the uterus, which in turn can deprive the baby of oxygen. It can also cause uterine rupture, which is life-threatening for both mothers and babies (5).
Anesthesia/analgesia errors can also be very dangerous. Spinal epidurals and spinal blocks both come with associated risks. Epidurals sometimes interfere with the second stage of labor; this increases the likelihood that a physician will attempt to use delivery instruments like forceps and vacuum extractors, which have risks of their own. When used incorrectly, these devices can cause the baby to have brain bleeds and other forms of birth trauma. In the long term, infants may develop disabilities such as HIE and cerebral palsy.
Failing to provide extra attention to high-risk patients
There are certain medical conditions that mean a pregnancy should be classified as “high risk.” These include the following, among others:
- Diabetes/gestational diabetes
- High blood pressure/preeclampsia
- Maternal obesity
- Carrying multiples (e.g. twins or triplets)
- Advanced maternal age (age over 35)
Having a high-risk pregnancy does not mean that a baby cannot be born healthy; rather, it indicates that extra monitoring and care will be needed throughout the pregnancy in order to ensure the safety of both mother and baby. Physicians often recommend more frequent and extensive prenatal testing, and may refer mothers to maternal-fetal specialists. Failure to recognize when a pregnancy is high risk, and to recommend extra care, is negligence (7).
Waiting too long to perform necessary interventions
In some cases, doctors know exactly what interventions are needed in order to protect a mother or baby when medical complications arise. However, if they do not act quickly enough, this can further endanger their patients.
For example, if a baby is showing signs of distress, oxygenation must be restored as soon as possible. It does not take long for a baby in low oxygen conditions to develop hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which can lead to other permanent disabilities.
In order to restore oxygen flow to an unborn baby, doctors may try administering oxygen, fluids, and medication to the mother or changing her position. In some cases, however, an emergency C-section is necessary. Medical professionals should always be prepared for this possibility. Failure to perform a prompt C-section when one is needed is negligence (8).
Fundamental components of birth injury lawsuits
There are certain fundamental issues that must be proven in order to obtain compensation for a birth injury case, or indeed for any medical malpractice case. These include the following (9, 10):
Deviation from standard of care
“Standard of care” refers to how a reasonably competent doctor (or other medical professional) would respond to a given situation. In providing care, doctors are expected to draw on their extensive education and experience and make carefully calculated decisions. If they fail to do this, they are said to have deviated from standard of care/behaved negligently.
In order to win a case, the plaintiff’s attorney must also demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence was a cause of harm to the plaintiff. Although negligence without causation is still concerning, it is typically not grounds for a lawsuit.
Finally, the plaintiff’s attorney needs to demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff to have measurable damages that merit compensation.
Legal help for birth injuries and newborn malpractice
ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. We have obtained multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts for our clients, which can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources. Our awards and testimonials further attest to our success.
If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win!
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- Misperceptions about birth injuries and medical malpractice lawsuits
- ABC Law Centers (n.d.). Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE): Legal Help for Birth Injuries. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/fetus-or-newborn-medical-problems/hypoxic-ischemic-encephalopathy/.
- ABC Law Centers (2014, November 14). Signs of Fetal Distress and Oxygen Deprivation: FAQs. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-are-some-signs-that-my-baby-is-in-distress/.
- Athenahealth, Inc. (2014, December 15). athenahealth Announces Results of 9th Annual Epocrates Future Physicians of America Survey. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/athenahealth-announces-results-of-9th-annual-epocrates-future-physicians-of-america-survey-2014-12-15.
- ABC Law Centers. (2018, January 4). What is informed consent? Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-is-informed-consent/
- ABC Law Centers/ (n.d.). Uterine Tachysystole. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/practice-areas-uterine-tachysystole/.
- ABC Law Centers (n.d.). Epidurals, Spinal Blocks, and Birth Injuries: Legal Help. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/labor-and-delivery-medication-errors/anesthesia-mistakes/.
- ABC Law Centers (n.d.). High-Risk Pregnancy: Birth Injury Attorneys. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/maternal-medical-conditions/high-risk-pregnancy/.
- ABC Law Centers. (2014, November 21). Emergency C-Sections. Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/abc-video/51532-emergency-c-sections/.
- ABC Law Centers. (2018, February 15). What is standard of care? Retrieved October 16, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-is-standard-of-care/.
- ABC Law Centers (n.d.). The History of Medical Malpractice Law: An Overview. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/resources/medical-malpractice-overview/.