What Is a Birth Injury Lawsuit?
A birth injury lawsuit aims to provide financial compensation for a child's preventable birth injury. The parents of a child who experienced an injury during birth typically file these lawsuits against the doctors, nurses, or other medical professionals responsible. Families need to receive financial compensation for these injuries, as they may have increased medical or treatment costs and diminished quality of life for the child. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care costs for children with cerebral palsy can be 10 to 26 times higher than for those without the condition.
Are there different types of birth injuries?
There are different types of injuries that someone may experience at birth. Both the mother and the child may sustain injuries during the birthing process. These injuries can create life-long complications and, in some cases, significantly lower the quality of life for the victim. Some common types of birth injuries include:
- Cerebral palsy as a result of umbilical cord or placenta mismanagement.
- A brachial plexus injury, which occurs in the nerves that run from the neck to the chest and armpit.
- Caput succedaneum, also known as scalp swelling.
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, which is brain dysfunction resulting from a lack of blood flow or oxygen.
- Spinal cord injuries in the neck or back.
- Cephalohematoma is the rupturing of blood cells in the skull, often due to deliveries involving forceps.
- Bone fractures may occur in traumatic or breech births.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhages occur when a strenuous birth causes blood vessels to rupture below the infant's eyes, which can ultimately lead to blindness.
These are some of the injuries that infants can experience during birth. The mother may also sustain injuries, such as failure to treat infections or improper use of force during delivery.
The impact of birth injuries
In some cases, birth injuries are minor and resolve themselves after a short time. In other cases, however, the injuries suffered during the birthing process can lead to long-lasting health complications. Birthing injuries can lead to life-long conditions such as cerebral palsy or blindness, which can significantly lower the infant's quality of life. Other injuries may increase medical bills or expenses related to at-home treatment for the injury. Therefore, birth injuries may lead to physical and emotional stress and significant financial strain well into the future.
Types of lawsuits for birth injuries
There are two primary birth injury lawsuits claimants can file after experiencing a birth injury. The first is medical negligence, which charges that the medical professionals involved with the birth failed to follow the expected medical care standards. When determining negligence, a Court will explore whether a similarly trained medical professional would have acted differently than the health care provider in question. For example, a provider forgetting to order a laboratory test and the patient remaining undiagnosed as a result would likely be considered negligence if a similarly trained professional would typically have ordered the test.
Other than medical negligence, there are also medical mistakes. Medical mistakes are not as serious as medical negligence. The difference is that a medical mistake is one that even a competent health care provider could make. For example, a health care provider may administer the wrong baby formula. There is a fine line between medical malpractice and a medical mistake, which is why claimants should work with an attorney who can pursue the correct legal avenue for them.
Adverse events associated with birth injuries
Medical malpractice and medical mistakes can have many causes. It all depends on the situation and circumstances the claimant finds themselves in, in addition to the treating medical professionals. Here are examples of adverse events that could lead to birth injuries:
- A doctor fails to take a patient's history.
- A glove containing hot water bursts on top of a newborn infant, causing burns.
- A nurse fails to monitor the fetal heartbeat in a high-risk pregnancy.
- A doctor uses an improper amount of force when attempting to deliver the baby.
What is the statute of limitations for birth injuries?
The statute of limitations establishes how much time claimants have to file legal action following an incident. Each state has its statute of limitation laws, which can vary based on the type of legal action. Claimants should familiarize themselves with the statute of limitations in their area, as missing the deadline typically means being unable to file a lawsuit. Unless otherwise stated, the clock starts when the injury is first noticed.
Following a birth injury: steps to take
Lawsuits involving a birth injury typically follow the same path. Here are the steps claimants can follow to receive financial compensation for a birth injury:
Meet with an attorney
First, claimants should consult an attorney who works with medical malpractice lawsuits, as they will have the most experience related to the claim. The attorney will discuss the specifics of the claimant's situation and determine whether medical malpractice exists. Some things they will look for are whether the medical professionals failed to adhere to a standard of care and the type of injuries experienced. During this step, the attorney will also help claimants secure a Certificate of Merit, which is a certificate from an expert who verifies the claim.
Once a lawyer determines that the claimant has grounds for a birth injury lawsuit, the next step is to start gathering evidence. For the lawsuit to have the best chance of success, it needs to have a foundation of strong evidence. Types of evidence a lawyer will seek to gather include medical bills, medical records, receipts for other related expenses, witness testimony, and telephone records. Working with a good medical malpractice lawyer will help to ensure that claimants gather as much evidence as possible and that their experiences are well documented.
File a lawsuit
After collecting sufficient evidence, a lawyer will file a lawsuit in the proper Court on the claimant's behalf. This action will notify the defendant (the medical provider) of the lawsuit and give them a chance to respond. At this time, the claimant's lawyer will also file their Certificate of Merit, which allows the lawsuit to continue.
Next, the discovery phase begins. During this phase, each party requests potential evidence from the other side to prepare their cases. For example, the claimant's lawyer may want to interview medical professionals or secure certain documents from the hospital. This phase can often lead the attorney to stronger evidence, which the claimant will need when arguing their case.
Negotiate a settlement
In many birth injury lawsuits, it is common to enter into settlement negotiations before proceeding to trial. Agreeing to a settlement with the defendant is typically a faster way to receive some financial compensation, as the claimant will not need to go through a lengthy trial process. During this phase, the claimant's lawyer will negotiate with lawyers on the other side, attempting to secure the best possible financial compensation for their client.
Go to trial
If the two sides cannot settle, the case proceeds to trial. Here, the claimant's lawyer will argue on their behalf in front of a judge and jury. After each side has argued their case, it is left to a jury to decide who wins. Some trials can take a long time to complete, depending on the specifics of the case and the jurisdiction where the claimant lives. If the case is unsuccessful in Court, the claimant may be able to file an appeal to a higher Court if they believe there was an error made during the trial. This process can significantly lengthen the trial but also gives the claimant another opportunity to receive financial compensation.