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Birth Injury Law: What You Need to Know

Choosing to have a child is an exciting decision, but it may also prove frightening. In most cases, excited parents trust their doctors and nurses to help take care of their baby and help the birth process go smoothly. Sometimes, however, things can go wrong.

Birth injuries are devastating for everyone involved. If your child has suffered an injury at birth, you are likely heartbroken and may struggle to know what to do next. You do have options for dealing with the accident, but you also need help. Reach out to an experienced birth injury lawyer who can help you determine your next steps and start the healing process.

How Do Birth Injuries Happen?

Birth injuries often happen naturally. Babies who are too heavy, are born prematurely, are born breech, or are born of a mother whose body struggles with childbirth may suffer injuries.

While birth injuries can occur due to natural causes, most are avoidable and result from negligence, also known as medical malpractice, on the part of the medical provider.

The four main causes of birth injuries are:

  1. Fetal oxygen deprivation
  2. Trauma from impact during delivery
  3. Premature birth
  4. Medical malpractice

Each of these causes can result from the negligence of doctors and nurses to properly monitor the health of babies and their mothers during pregnancy or birth.

For example, doctors can usually prevent birth injuries by carefully monitoring the mother and baby to catch any abnormalities quickly. During birth, doctors must keep an eye out for situations that may require a C-section. If a doctor or other healthcare professional fails to take proper care of a baby and mother, it may constitute negligence and malpractice.

What Are Common Birth Injuries

The most common birth injuries are brain injuries that occur because of a lack of oxygen to the baby in the womb, but many other injuries may also occur.

The most commonly diagnosed birth injuries are:

  • Brain damage. Brain damage, such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), often occurs due to lack of oxygen, either during pregnancy or birth. There are various causes for this type of brain damage, often involving problems with the uterus, the placenta, or the umbilical cord. Doctors must carefully monitor a baby’s heart rate during pregnancy and birth to ensure that a child has enough oxygen. If not, a doctor should deliver the baby immediately via a C-section.
  • Cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is one of the most common brain injuries. It usually results in babies struggling to use their muscles and limbs properly in the future. It usually occurs due to the same type of brain injury problems above, but may also result from infection or brain bleeding.
  • Erb’s palsy. Erb’s palsy is a type of paralysis in the arm that usually results from damage to the nerves around the baby’s neck.
  • Skull fracture. If a birth is especially difficult or dangerous, a baby’s delicate skull bones might fracture, leading to serious injury or even death.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). RDS is usually caused by premature birth, when a baby’s lungs are too small to breathe properly on their own. A doctor usually puts a premature baby on a ventilator, which can result in over-ventilation injuries if the machine pulls too much carbon dioxide from the lungs. This situation can lead to brain injury as well.
  • Wrongful death. If a baby does not survive birth because a doctor was careless or inefficient, the parents can and should claim the death as a wrongful death that could have been avoided by proper care.

Most birth injuries affect a baby’s brain. However, many are avoidable with the appropriate attention and care from a doctor or other healthcare professional.

Adequate Care to Avoid Birth Injuries

Except in very rare circumstances, birth injuries are avoidable through careful attention and monitoring. Doctors must track a baby’s heartbeat and other vital signs throughout the pregnancy and birth to ensure everything is going smoothly. If your doctor failed to provide adequate care, resulting in a birth injury, you should pursue compensation for your losses.

Proper care during birth includes:

  • The mother and child are appropriately and consistently monitored for heart rate and other vitals.
  • The doctor identifies any possible complications early and in time to offer treatment.
  • The doctor performs a C-section if the doctor cannot deliver the baby naturally, whether due to size, position, or other complications.
  • The doctor is careful during delivery and avoids using too much force by pulling the baby’s arm or misusing tools, like the forceps.
  • The doctor consistently monitors the baby’s oxygen before and after delivery.
  • The doctor diagnosed and treated health conditions, such as preeclampsia, in the mother that could cause injury to the baby.
  • The doctor treats jaundice or other noticeable illnesses in the baby.
  • The doctor appropriately supervises nurses, resident doctors, or others involved in the delivery.

You should hold your doctor accountable for any negligence or inattention during your birthing process. If your doctor failed to follow any of the aforementioned steps to ensure a healthy birth, you should contact an attorney to determine your eligibility to file a lawsuit. It is not always possible to reverse the damage done, but it is possible to regain some compensation and ensure that doctors take more precautions in the future.

How Can You Prove That Medical Negligence Resulted in a Birth Injury?

The law in New York requires that a plaintiff prove a defendant’s negligence to successfully recover compensation.

To succeed, a plaintiff must:

  1. Prove that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. In a birth injury case, you must prove that the doctor or provider owed a duty to care to the baby and mother to help avoid any harm that could come to them.
  2. Prove that the defendant breached that duty of care. You must provide evidence that proves that the doctor or other provider failed to provide appropriate care.
  3. Prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused a birth injury. You must prove that the injury to your baby resulted directly from the failure of the doctor or provider to provide adequate care.
  4. Prove that the injury has serious ramifications for you. Finally, you must prove that the injury resulting from the doctor’s or provider’s carelessness has caused you and your baby some measure of pain, suffering, and loss.

It may prove difficult to uncover evidence that demonstrates a doctor’s negligence. You may struggle to gain access to medical records if a doctor suspects that you’re pursuing a medical malpractice claim, but you have the right to access your own medical records.

However, you need physical evidence to prove your claim, including:

  • Medical records
  • Medical bills
  • Witness statements
  • Expert testimonies

If you are having a hard time gathering all of the information that you need, consider talking to a birth injury lawyer. Birth injury lawyers are well versed in medical malpractice cases and know how to gather the necessary information to prove a claim that doctors don’t want to admit. Lawyers usually know many experts in the medical field that can attest that your provider acted with negligence by explaining how a reasonable doctor would have acted with the same information. Expert witness testimony is indispensable to birth injury claims.

Who Can Claim Damages in a Birth Injury Case?

The most common plaintiffs in a birth injury case are the parents. Parents can claim compensation for everything that their baby’s injury has cost them and will cost them in the future. However, a child can also claim damages, specifically those that stem from ongoing medical care mandated by the injuries, which may prove long-term.

In a birth injury case, the first thing you’ll likely do is set up a lifecare plan. A life care plan is created by medical experts and includes an estimate of the total cost of medical care for the entire lifetime of a child injured at birth.

The main types of damages that plaintiffs can pursue in birth injury claims include:

  • Medical expenses for the mother and the child
  • Ongoing medical expenses for therapy, treatments, medications, medical equipment, special education, procedures, transportation, in-home care, modifications to a home (such as stair ramps or handrails), etc.
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress to the child and the parents
  • Lost wages for parents who must take time off work to care for an injured child
  • Loss of earning potential for parents who must quit work or for children who can’t work a normal job when they grow up
  • Loss of life enjoyment for the child and parents

There is no way to place a price on the injury to your child, but making a claim that seeks maximum compensation for your losses is a good way to start.

What Should You Do After a Birth Injury?

You may feel that there’s not a lot you can do after your baby suffers an injury.

However, while your child may not heal completely, you can:

  • Take care of your baby and yourself. Medical care is essential. Find a doctor whom you can trust and get the attention that your baby needs to live as healthy and happy a life as possible. Take care of yourself as well. You can’t properly provide for your baby if you are unhealthy yourself. Maintain healthy habits and talk to a counselor if you need extra emotional support.
  • Ask questions. As you already understand, doctors don’t know everything. Ask lots of questions regarding the proper care and treatment for your baby. If you need to, get two or three opinions to make sure that your child has the best treatment possible.
  • Take time to mourn and celebrate. Your baby won’t progress at the same rate as many other children, and it’s okay to mourn that. But don’t forget to rejoice when your baby does grow! Enjoy the process of learning how to take care of and raise your unique and precious child.
  • Talk to a birth injury attorney. If your baby’s injury resulted from medical malpractice, you should seek legal help. You shouldn’t allow the doctor or provider whose negligence caused your baby to suffer harm to go on without accountability. While it’s important to realize that doctors are human and prone to mistakes, it’s also important to ensure that they don’t let those mistakes happen again.

How Do Birth Injury Claims Work?

In New York, you must bring an injury claim within two years and six months of your baby’s birth. It’s essential to discuss your claim with a birth injury lawyer before that limitation so that you can build a strong case as quickly as possible.

First, you will talk to a lawyer. The lawyer will help you determine if you have a claim and what to do next. If the lawyer feels you have a good claim, he or she may want to send a demand letter to the doctor and request direct compensation. If the doctor agrees to pay, that will conclude your case. If the doctor refuses to pay, your attorney will likely file an official lawsuit.

The lawyers will then gather evidence from medical records and bills, your life care plan if you have one, medical experts, and any witness statements. After gathering relevant evidence, lawyers on both sides will negotiate to see if they can reach a satisfactory settlement. If settlement proves unviable, the case will proceed to trial.

Birth injury cases are often long and complicated. However, if you believe that medical malpractice caused your child’s injuries, don’t hesitate to reach out to a birth injury attorney. Medical malpractice cases often settle for millions of dollars. Check with an attorney today to determine if you have a case that could help your child recover from birth injuries.

Personal Injury Law