BIRTH INJURY: AN OVERVIEW
Although most babies in the United States are delivered without incident, according to medical experts there are approximately 28,000 birth injuries reported every year. If a medical professional is negligent during pregnancy, labor or delivery, it could result in the serious injury or death of a baby.
There are few injuries that can be as emotionally and financially devastating to a family as birth injuries; these mishaps often create lifelong medical issues permanently affecting an individual and generating care bills exceeding $1-4 million during their lifetime.
If medical professionals neglect their duties they can be held responsible for those errors through Michigan’s medical malpractice laws. Birth injuries are some of the most complex and expensive cases to litigate, which is why having an established, compassionate, and knowledgeable law firm representing the interests of you and your injured child is so important.
To help educate families affected by medical malpractice, Turner and Turner has compiled some of the most commonly asked questions about Michigan birth injuries:
WHAT IS A BIRTH INJURY?
A birth injury is a type of medical malpractice where medical neglect occurs during pregnancy, labor, or immediately after a baby’s delivery. This type of injury can occur either because the medical professional makes a mistake or fails to provide a “medical standard of care” to what a similarly situated medical professional would have done.
WHAT IS THE “MEDICAL STANDARD OF CARE”?
To ensure medical professionals perform their jobs safely and professionally, they are held accountable by guidelines known as the “Medical Standard of Care,” which is defined by the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled health care professional — with a similar background and in the same medical community — would provided under similar circumstances (that led to the alleged malpractice).
In most medical malpractice lawsuits, a qualified expert medical witness will testify as to what the appropriate “Medical Standard of Care” would be as related to your specific circumstance, and how the attending doctor deviated from that standard causing the related injury.
WHAT CONSTITUTES NEGLIGENCE DURING PREGNANCY, LABOR OR DELIVERY?
Medical professionals must closely monitor both the mother and her baby throughout the pregnancy; critically around the time of labor and delivery. When pregnancy, labor or delivery complications arise, it is the responsibility of the attending physicians and associated medical team to act quickly and appropriately to minimize risks to mother and child. Failure to follow the “Medical Standard of Care” is considered negligence under state law.
WHAT ARE COMMON TYPES OF BIRTH INJURIES?
Common problems occurring when a doctor deviates from the “Medical Standard of Care” include, but are not limited to:
- Cerebral Palsy;
- Erb’s, Brachial Palsy or Klumpke’s Paralysis from Brachial Plexus Injuries;
- Broken or Fractured Bones;
- Perinatal and Neonatal Asphyxia also known as Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy [HIE]— lack of oxygen during birth;
- Temporary or Permanent Paralysis;
- Nerve Damage;
- Traumatic Brain Injuries [TBI];
- Trauma-Induced Hydrocephalus — excess fluid in the brain as a result of trauma;
- Caput Succedaneum — severe swelling and/or bruising of a baby’s head;
- Intracranial Hemorrhages — brain bleeds;
- Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities;
- Forceps Lacerations and Bruising;
WHAT ARE COMMON CAUSES OF BIRTH INJURIES?
Birth injuries may occur from a wide variety of factors, but some of the most common causes of birth injuries — resulting from medical negligence — include, but are not limited to a(n):
- Failure to notice changes in the baby or mother’s condition;
- Failure to diagnose and/or stop pre-term birth;
- Failure or delay bringing in a specialist;
- Failure to recognize and address problems with the umbilical cord;
- Failure to identify and adequately respond to fetal distress/non-reassuring fetal heart rate;
- Failure to diagnose or properly treat excessive bilirubin in a baby;
- Failure to diagnose and advise on maternal medical conditions;
- Medication errors;
- Untreated maternal infections;
- Failure to diagnose or treat a labor complication;
- Failure to identify and plan for complicated or high-risk deliveries;
- Failure or delay in ordering a C-section (may be after Cervical Dystocia);
- Failure to properly administer anesthesia;
- Incorrect use of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery.
DIAGNOSING BIRTH INJURY
It is the core responsibility of doctors and related medical professionals to recognize symptoms of birth injuries, and to respond accordingly. Many birth injuries are treatable if diagnosed and treated promptly. However, all too often medical professionals fail to identify symptoms of an injury, order necessary tests to make a determination or institute prompt treatment. In other cases, injuries do not present immediately resulting in victims not being diagnosed in a timely manner, affecting their prognosis and impacting the types of treatments available.
MONITORING THE BABY’S HEALTH DURING THE BIRTHING PROCESS
Labor and delivery are stressful for both mother and baby. During a contraction, baby is squeezed tightly in the mother’s uterus, interrupting the blood supply from the placenta to the fetus. It is crucial for doctors and professionals to monitor the baby’s heartbeat during labor for signs of fetal distress. If the infant is distressed, the doctor may need to perform a C-section to prevent serious injuries.
During labor, fetal heart rate monitoring can be performed in several ways:
Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM) or Continuous Monitoring: This type of monitoring usually happens during labor and delivery, and may be necessary with certain health conditions or events including, but not limited to:
- High blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, or diabetes;
- BMI of 40 or higher;
- Previous C-section;
- High maternal temperature;
- Fresh bleeding from vagina during labor;
- Water broke before the start of labor and more than 24 hours have passed;
- Mother is delivering twins;
- Child is smaller than expected;
- Waters contain significant amounts of meconium;
- Prolonged labor in first or second stage;
- Oxytocin is administered to speed up labor; or
- Epidural is administered during labor.
Intermittent Monitoring: The infant’s heart rate is monitored with a hand-held Doppler fetal monitor or ear trumpet (Pinard) stethoscope. During active labor, your healthcare provider should be listening to the baby’s heartbeat for at least one minute every 15 minutes after a contraction. At the pushing stage, this should be performed at least every five minutes.
Fetal Scalp Electrode: After the mother’s water has broken, a small clip known as a fetal scalp electrode may be placed on the baby’s head to monitor fetal heart rate. It can provide a more accurate reading on its own, or in conjunction with intermittent or continuous monitoring.
A doctor may also take a fetal blood sample to better monitor the child’s condition during labor. The baby’s head is sprayed with a local anesthetic, and then the doctor passes a rod with a small blade through the vagina to take a small amount of the infant’s blood. The blood is analyzed for oxygen content. If the blood sample contains insufficient oxygen, the doctor should take another sample in approximately half an hour. If oxygen levels are low and the child is in distress, an emergency C-section delivery may be necessary to prevent injury to the baby.
Failure to monitor the baby during the birth process can result in serious birth injuries or death of the child. Failure to recognize signs of distress or take action when they occur can be equally harmful. A healthcare provider can be held liable for failure to:
- Monitor vital signs during pregnancy and the birth process;
- Monitor for complications with the umbilical cord; or
- Correctly interpret signs of fetal distress.
If your child has been injured because the doctor, nurses or hospital did not perform necessary tests, or did not correctly interpret test results and take prompt and effective action to prevent injury, your best course of action is to speak with a knowledgeable birth injury attorney at Turner and Turner.