Birth Injury Lawyers Focused on Helping You and Your Baby
Having a baby is an exciting time and every parent hopes for a happy, healthy child. However, when childbirth is met with a birth injury for the mother or child, the situation becomes stressful and uncertain.
The results of these birth injuries are emotionally and financially devastating to families. In some cases, birth injuries occur as a result of medical negligence. Our firm’s goal is to identify whether birth injuries were caused by negligence and whether medical professionals, hospitals, corporations, or other parties can be held responsible for the damages victims and their families suffer.
Birth Injuries Are Life-Altering Events
Having a baby is one of the most hopeful and exciting moments in life for a family. It’s a time period filled with a mix of anticipation and joy, because you can’t wait to hold and raise your healthy baby boy or girl. However, this wonderful part of life is shattered when a newborn is injured during childbirth. As parents you want nothing more than to protect your children, and it’s a hopeless feeling when a medical error is made that directly impacts the well being of your baby.
Birth injuries force new parents to face the possibility that their newborn may have physical, behavioral, learning or language delays or disabilities that could last a lifetime. No couple should have to experience the pain of discovering their little boy or girl has a birth injury; and you especially shouldn’t go through it alone. Our attorneys at Tittle & Perlmuter are here to help you through this.
How Often do Birth Injuries Occur?
According to the National Healthcare Quality Report, nearly one in 9,700 births result in birth injuries annually, which means approximately 30,000 newborns experience an injury at birth every year. This equates to about 76 birth injuries each day. In many cases, injuries aren’t noticed right away. Oftentimes, the injury is only diagnosed after children fail to develop properly. These types of injuries are noticed when children fail to sit up or develop verbal skills, amongst other signs.
Childbirth is a critical moment for the development of a newborn’s brain. Any interruption of oxygen-rich blood going to the brain during delivery can cause severe brain damage for an infant, or even death. Unfortunately, when doctors, nurses or hospitals fail to follow proper protocols for the childbirth process, mistakes occur and preventable medical errors lead to severe brain injuries to newborn babies who should have been born healthy.
Common Birth Injuries
In many ways, the birthing process is difficult and physically stressful for newborn babies, because they are subject to the incredible forces of contractions during labor. Obstetricians and nurses who deliver babies are taught through both medical education and experience about the significant risks babies face if the medical team doesn’t follow proper protocols. When doctors or nurses are negligent or fail to follow their training, babies can suffer potentially life-threatening injuries. Types of birth injuries include:
- Wrongful Death of Infant
- Wrongful Death of Mother
- Death or Trauma Related to Incorrect Dosage of Medicine
- C-Section Mistakes
- Bone Fractures
- Fetal Distress
- Uterine Ruptures
- Cerebral Palsy
- Erb’s Palsy
- Brain Injuries
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Wrongful Death
One of the most significant risks to babies is oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery, also known as asphyxia.
What Can Happen When Doctors Don’t Do Their Job?
When you’re having a baby, the things you expect to worry about are what to name your boy or girl, or picking out the right paint color for the nursery. You don’t anticipate needing to agonize over medical conditions, because you’ve put your trust in your doctors that they’ll delivery your newborn safe and sound. However, what happens when your healthcare providers neglect their duty of care, putting your baby in harm’s way? It is unacceptable for medical staff to endanger the life of someone who’s just been born, but it unfortunately happens too often.
Among the most common situations in which medical malpractice causes a brain injury or birth injury in newborns, is when the medical team fails to properly respond to a complication during birth. Complications range from an obstructed or twisted umbilical cord to a ruptured uterus, or any of the following:
- Trauma or separation of the placenta;
- Failure to accurately respond to fetal distress;
- Improper reading of the electronic fetal monitoring strips;
- Mistakes with the use of anesthesia in surgery or cesarean section;
- Improper dosage of medication during labor; and
- Mistakes during delivery, such as shoulder dystocia.
Baby Brain Injuries
Despite the knowledge doctors have, about three out of every 1,000 babies suffer some sort of brain injury. Half of these are caused by a lack of oxygen that occurs before or after birth.
What Causes a Lack of Oxygen?
When someone is deprived of oxygen it is known as asphyxia. The risk of asphyxia to premature babies is even higher than for babies that come to full term. The medical terms for asphyxia are hypoxia, meaning the baby receives insufficient oxygen to the brain, and anoxia, which means the baby receives no oxygen to the brain. Oxygen deprivation is caused by many things at the time of labor and delivery, including:
- Placental problems;
- Prolapsed umbilical cord;
- Contractions that are too close together;
- Too much of certain medication causing excessive uterine stimulation;
- Infection ;
- Preeclampsia and eclampsia;
- Shoulder dystocia, where the baby is trapped and contractions squeeze the neck; or
- Fetal distress.
For every potential cause of asphyxia, there are required procedures for medical professionals to follow. There are specific signs doctors and nurses need to look out for to recognize the problem, as well as protocols for treatment. If the medical team fails to follow these protocols, it can result in prolonged oxygen deprivation and permanent injury. It is crucial for doctors to have proper training on how to accurately interpret electronic fetal heart tracings and gauge whether the baby is having problems during labor and delivery. When medical staff blatantly ignores procedures that help identify and treat brain injuries at birth, it is a form of medical malpractice.
What are the Damaging Effects of Oxygen Deprivation?
The severity of the brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen varies greatly, and usually depends on the severity and length of the oxygen deprivation during birth. Among some of the more serious conditions caused by asphyxia or hypoxia include:
- Cerebral Palsy (CP)
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
- Other Brain Damage or Neurological Disorders
Other medical problems that result from a lack of oxygen to the brain include mental defects, vision impairment, hearing loss and developmental delays. Damage to the left side of the brain may cause serious problems with speech and language. Damage to the right side of the brain can create emotional problems. Additionally, injury to either side of the brain may lead to paralysis in the opposite side of the body.
In many cases, a baby’s developing brain can quickly recover from a hypoxic or anoxic event without signs of damage. However, when there is more than one severe deprivation event during labor and delivery, brain cells die, damaging critical parts of the brain. In all, 25 percent of babies who experience asphyxia at birth end up with permanent neurological problems. About one in every eight end up with cerebral palsy.
When babies suffer brain injuries, often referred to as neonatal encephalopathy (NE), the injury in some cases is treatable. However, the medical team must quickly diagnose the injury and treat it within hours of delivery. That requires that medical professionals know how to diagnose neonatal brain damage, what causes it, and how brain damage in a baby is prevented. If they don’t catch it immediately, the possibility of lasting damage is significant and may indicate medical negligence occurred.
How to Diagnose Oxygen Deprivation Birth Injuries?
When a doctor diagnoses a baby as having a brain injury, or neonatal encephalopathy, it means the baby shows symptoms of dysfunction in either the brain or the spinal cord, if not both. The term, neonatal encephalopathy, typically refers to term and late preterm babies, whereas a brain injury to a premature infant is usually referred to with the term “encephalopathy of prematurity.” When a neonatal brain injury is suspected, the doctor will order tests that take pictures of the baby’s brain to help confirm the diagnosis.
What Tests Help Diagnose a Brain Injury?
There are numerous tests available that help determine whether or not, and to what extent a child suffered a hypoxic or anoxic injury during the birthing process. The medical team may order MRIs, for example, right after the birth or later, to determine if there’s an injury. They can also conduct blood gas testing immediately after the birth. If the baby has seizures shortly after birth, that is often a sign of an oxygen-deprivation injury. Other tests that can help to diagnose include electrocardiograms (EKG) and electroencephalograms (EEG).
What are Common Signs of Baby Brain Injuries?
Among the most common signs and symptoms of neonatal encephalopathy and brain injuries may include the following:
- Low apgar scores for more than 5 minutes;
- Abnormally acidic umbilical cord blood;
- A weak or absent cry at delivery;
- Failure to breathe immediately after delivery, especially if the baby needed to be resuscitated;
- An abnormal level of consciousness, such as irritability, lethargy, or lack of alertness;
- Tone and reflex abnormalities, meaning the baby is either limp or floppy, or stiff as a board or spastic;
- Breathing or respiratory problems;
- Apnea, meaning the baby stops breathing for more than 20 seconds;
- Seizures soon after birth;
- Difficulty feeding, such as an inability to latch, suck or swallow;
- Low blood pressure;
- Hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, which means either high or low blood sugar;
- Problems with multiple organs; or
- Poor head position or a stiff neck
Often, babies who suffer brain damage require breathing assistance. It is vital for doctors to make sure the baby gets enough oxygen and eliminates enough carbon dioxide. Sometimes, a ventilator is used for partial support, while other times full support is needed. The medical team must closely monitor babies placed on ventilators to make sure they do not experience over-ventilation injuries, such as hypocarbia. This happens when there are low carbon dioxide levels or the baby has a pneumothorax, which is a hole in the lungs.
Treatments for Infant Brain Injuries
Brain injuries, such as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) must be diagnosed within 6 hours of birth and requires immediate medical attention. Doctors who think a baby experienced birth asphyxia must act quickly. There is only one treatment for HIE and medical professionals have to administer it within 6 hours. Because of that, doctors don’t use head imaging for a diagnosis, and instead make sure a newborn meets specific criteria, in the form of specific signs and symptoms, in order to qualify for HIE treatment.
If a baby is eligible for HIE treatment, they are given brain cooling (Hypothermia) treatment, where the baby’s core body temperature is cooled to several degrees below normal for 72 hours before it is slowly brought back to normal. Hypothermia treatment has been shown to halt almost every injurious process that starts to occur when the brain has been deprived of oxygen. Research shows that Hypothermia treatment can prevent babies from developing cerebral palsy (CP), or at least lessen the severity of the CP.
Later on, head imaging is used for a more definitive diagnosis. In some cases, moderate to severe forms of brain damage in newborns is visible between 12 and 24 hours after birth by using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Likewise, an ultrasound often reveals when a premature infant has a brain injury when the baby is no more than 24 hours old. In addition, brain cyst changes are detectable within one to three weeks after birth.
How Often Should a Hospital Check for a Potential Brain Injury?
An MRI is the best way to way to assess the extent of the damage and usually shows the existence of a brain injury by one day of age. However, given that brain injuries tend to evolve, when brain damage is suspected, brain scans need to be repeated at least every few days, if not daily. Sometimes, even the best radiologists can miss evidence of brain damage on a scan, and other times, the damage may not be evident. Daily scans of the brain help to identify any possibility of a brain injury caused at birth.
Other Complications That Can Cause Infant Brain Damage
There are many other problems that cause babies to suffer brain damage, including:
Umbilical Cord Problems:
Umbilical cords cause birth injuries when it is prolapsed, too short or knotted, or gets wrapped around the neck of the baby. The umbilical cord vein is the primary pathway for oxygen-rich blood traveling from the mother to the fetus, so if this is impeded in anyway, it can lead to brain damage.
This refers to the placenta tearing away from the womb. Problems with the uterus or placenta significantly decreases the amount of oxygen-rich blood traveling to the baby during birth. In some cases, such as a complete placental abruption, the baby may receive no oxygen-rich blood from the mother. This can lead to potential brain damage.
When a womb tears, it may lead to severe hemorrhaging in the mother and sometimes even spilling the baby into the mother’s abdomen. Additionally, a uterine rupture may result in decreased oxygen-rich blood flow to the baby.
Forceps, which is a medical instrument that looks like salad tongs, are intended to be applied to each side of the baby’s head. However, the instrument must be placed in a precise manner and without very little force. Forceps are rarely used these days because of the potential trauma to the skull and/or the spinal cord. They can also cause the baby’s brain to bleed or lead to clotting or hemorrhaging.
If the mother has an infection, that infection can travel to the baby at birth. If the infection moves to the baby’s brain, it can place the baby at risk of a brain bleed. An infection can also cause problems with the baby’s blood flow to the brain.
These can also cause problems with the blood pressure and the blood flow of the mother, which can then result in a decreased supply of oxygen-rich blood going to the baby.
This happens when the brain’s blood vessels become blocked or restricted. The use of forceps and vacuum extractors cause fetal strokes. The lack of blood can cause the baby to have a stroke, which leads to severe oxygen deprivation, and HIE.
What do I do if my Baby Experienced a Birth Injury?
When your newborn boy or girl suffers from a birth injury, it is a difficult diagnosis to hear. It’s hard and scary trying to decide what to do next and how to best help your child. When your baby has a severe birth injury caused by medical negligence, the next best step is to determine if you can file a birth injury lawsuit. As a parent you want to provide the best quality of life for your child, and with a birth injury claim you could receive monetary compensation that can help pay for:
- Medical and healthcare expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Contact Tittle & Perlmuter’s Birth Injury Lawyers
If you believe negligence of a doctor or hospital caused a birth injury to your chid, call a lawyer. You should speak to an attorney immediately to discuss your legal options.At Tittle & Perlmuter, our attorneys can review the details of your case and help give answers to the questions you’re asking. We have investigated birth injury cases throughout Cleveland and the state of Ohio. We have developed a proven track record of helping families recover the settlements and verdicts they are entitled to. It is possible that your child and your family are entitled to compensation to pay for your child’s medical care, physical therapy and a lot more.
Call our office today at 216-308-1522or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free legal consultation. Because this is a difficult and stressful time, we can arrange appointments on your schedule, including evenings and weekends. We can also come to you, if you can’t make it to our office. You deserve answers, and we can help you find them.