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Dangers During Childbirth: Common Medical Malpractice Against Infants

On October 10, 2019, we began a series on medical negligence during pregnancy and childbirth. In this article, our second installment, you will find the most frequent causes of medical malpractice against infants and wrongful death suffered by newborns, what legal rights you have, and what to do if you or a loved one have been harmed by hospital or physician negligence (failure to use reasonable care).

While medical malpractice during pregnancy and childbirth is rare, birth-related negligence on the part of physicians and hospitals is one of the leading causes of medical malpractice lawsuits today. 

In fact, out of every 1000 live births in the United States, approximately 7 involve a birth injury.  This means that approximately 28,000 birth injuries occur in the United States each year.  

The extended duration of labor and delivery levy a heavy physical and emotional toll, often a traumatic one for both mother and infant.  

However, when physicians and hospital staff who are responsible for minimizing this trauma act in ways that increase it, you or your infant may be victims of medical negligence.

Baltimore Jury Awards $229.6 Million for Brain Injury During Infant’s Birth 

There are very recent examples of negligence during childbirth causing horrifying conditions to an infant. In Baltimore, during June of this year, a jury awarded Erica Byrom and her daughter, Zubida, $229.6 million dollars--what her lawyer calls the largest medical malpractice amount ever awarded in the United States.

Byrom was told that her condition of preeclampsia and high blood pressure, which caused the 16 year old mother to forego a cesarean section. Byrom’s lawyers concluded that this diagnosis was incorrect, which led to lasting brain damage for her daughter.

In this devastating situation, the financial restitution that Byrom received will go toward the life-long care the Zubida will require. 

Negligence During Labor

So what can negligence during labor involve? The process of childbirth can be quite lengthy, but once labor begins, physicians and hospitals can put both mother and infant at risk by:

  • failing to monitor or recognize and respond to maternal or fetal distress, 
  • failing to assess risks to mother and child (as in the case of Erica Byrom), neglecting mother and/or child, 
  • and failure to follow up after delivery.  
Contact our attorneys to learn how we can help your infant medical malpractice claim.

According to Stanford Children’s Health, negligence like the above is most likely if:

  • the baby is large
  • the baby is not head-first in the birth canal
  • the baby is born prematurely
  • the mother’s pelvis is not large enough or shaped appropriately for a normal vaginal birth
  • labor is difficult or drawn out
  • the mother is overweight
  • devices like a vacuum or forceps are used in delivery

While these causes can tend to increase the ultimate risk to the mother, the child, or both mother and child, in cases of malpractice, they most often lead to three main categories of injuries specifically to the child: 

  • Bruising and fractures
  • Brain, nerve, and spinal cord damage
  • Lack of oxygen

Bruising and Fractures

  • Fractures.  While a broken bone does not necessarily mean disaster for toddlers, older children, or adults, when infants sustain a fracture during labor and delivery, they may have serious difficulty healing effectively and appropriately.  
    • This, in turn, can lead to long-term damage and potentially permanent complication or limited range-of-motion. Typically infants will suffer fractures of the clavicle (collar bone).  While at times unavoidable, sometimes doctors and hospital staff fail to recognize signals that a C-section delivery would be appropriate and necessary while also preventing further trauma to the infant.
  • Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. Subconjunctival hemorrhages are a type of birth-related injury that occur when small blood vessels rupture in a baby’s eye, sometimes as a result of the typical pressures of traditional delivery and also at times a consequence of vacuum-assisted delivery. 
    • This injury produces a small red patch on the white of the eye, most often resolving itself within a few weeks and causing no permanent damage to the infant’s eyes or vision. 
  • Cephalohematoma. Like subconjunctival hemorrhage, cephalohematoma is another type of birth injury that is typically caused by vacuum extraction. 
    • Cephalohematomas are pockets of blood that collected between the skin and the cranial bone. Though cephalohematomas can indicate the onset of jaundice, they often resolve themselves within the first few months of the infant’s life.  
  • Caput succedaneum. The third consistent injury to infants that families notice after a vacuum-assisted delivery is swelling of the infant’s scalp, called caput succedaneum
    • This condition can also result from an atypically traumatic or difficult and drawn-out labor and delivery.  In addition to the swelling, at times the infant’s scalp will also be visibly bruised. Both swelling and bruising often resolve within the first weeks of life.

Brain, Nerve, and Spinal Cord Damage

In addition to the bruising and fractures that infants can experience, especially during a vacuum-assisted delivery, difficult and drawn-out childbirth can also at times cause the infant to experience hemorrhaging, overstretching, and paralysis during a negligent delivery.

medical malpractice against infants
  • Brachial Plexus Injuries.  The brachial plexus is a collection of nerves that radiate from the spinal cord to the fingers. Brachial plexus birth palsy (Erb’s Palsy) is damage to the brachial plexus nerves when the infant’s neck or shoulder is stretched too far during delivery. 
    1. It manifests as weakness, numbness, and loss of motion in the infant’s arms and hands. It affects one to two out of every 1,000 babies, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 
    2. While many infants recover feeling and movement, there are gradations of severity, some requiring infants to undergo physical therapy or surgery within the first six months of life.
  • Shoulder Dystocia. When delivery is obstructed and, after the delivery of the head, the anterior shoulder cannot be delivered, other methods of delivery assistance - like vacuums - are often required.  At times, c-sections are indicated as a means to deliver the infant safely and quickly. When a cesarean section isn’t chosen, this type of labor obstruction can lead to nerve damage, either through compression or overstretching.
  • Bell’s Palsy. During protracted deliveries when an infant spends more time in the birth canal than typical, facial nerve injury can occur as a result of pressure on the baby's face.  Paralysis is most noticeable when the infant cries. If the nerves are only bruised, paralysis may resolve itself over time. If the nerves are torn, surgery may be required.

Lack of Oxygen

  • Perinatal Asphyxia. Perinatal asphyxia simply means a lack of oxygen before birth.  It often results from too much and too prolonged pressure on the umbilical cord, exposure to certain drugs, significant and rapid blood loss, or untreated infections.  Lack of oxygen at this crucial point in delivery can result in neurological damage. 
  • Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a specific neurological condition that occurs when sufficient oxygen flow does not get to the infant’s brain. This consequence of perinatal asphyxia can result in damage to or death of brain cells, developmental problems, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and even death.
  • Cerebral Palsy. This complex brain injury can encompass several neuro-muscular deficiencies that can prevent many basic motions. 

How Marks Law Group Can Help

While your infant cannot speak for themselves, thankfully, you can. 

There is restitution and a path forward for victims of pregnancy- and childbirth-related injury, mortality, and malpractice, just like there was for young Erica Byrom and her daughter, Zubida.  

If you believe you or a loved one have experienced medical malpractice during pregnancy or childbirth, you are empowered and entitled to be made whole under the law.  At Marks Law Group, LLC we understand that navigating a medical malpractice lawsuit can be confusing and time-consuming, especially when you have a newborn to care for.

At Marks Law Group, our personal injury lawyers can help you begin to find your new normal after pregnancy and childbirth. We will carefully investigate and build your case meticulously. Call us today at 404-800-1625. 

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