Birth Injury FAQs

By Lia Kopin-Green
July 27, 2022

Thanks to modern medicine, childbirth typically goes smoothly and without complications. There are, however, some things that can go wrong during childbirth that can have serious consequences for the mother or newborn. The term “birth injury” refers to any damage or injury that occurs to a baby during labor and delivery.

Read on to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about birth injuries.

What is the difference between a birth injury and a birth defect?

Birth injuries occur as a result of a complication during labor and delivery.  The majority of these injuries result from improper medical technique or use of equipment. It is estimated that five out of every 1,000 babies born in the United States are injured at birth.

On the other hand, birth defects are irregularities that develop prior to labor and delivery, usually within the first three months of pregnancy. Various factors can cause birth defects, including genetics, prescription or illegal drug use, and untreated conditions and infections. About 3% of all babies born in the United States have some sort of birth defect or irregularity. 

What is medical malpractice?

The term medical malpractice refers to negligence committed by medical professionals, such as doctors, nurses, or technicians, when their performance of duties deviates from a standard of practice for those with similar training and experience. 

In terms of birth injury, malpractice generally occurs when a doctor fails to assess or treat a condition or problem during childbirth. These cases require the patient to prove that the doctor's treatment during prenatal care, labor and delivery fell below the standard of care described above. 

Are lawsuits involving a baby harmed through birth injury always successful?

No, birth injuries may not always result in a successful lawsuit. This is because in some cases, birth injuries or defects are unavoidable and would have occurred regardless of a doctor's care. However, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be justified if the doctor could have prevented or treated the injury, but instead provided insufficient or negligent care.

What are the most common birth injuries?

Medical malpractice can result in several types of birth injuries, including but not limited to:

  1. Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy is a neurological disability in which the brain is damaged and not able to properly control movement and coordination. Cerebral palsy may develop during labor and delivery in cases of insufficient oxygen supply to the brain or significant head trauma. As one of the most common birth injuries, cerebral palsy is the subject of many medical malpractice lawsuits.
  2. Brachial Plexus Injury: This type of birth injury occurs as a result of damage to the nerves in the shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers, affecting muscle function and sensibility. It can develop at birth due to excessive stretching or compression of nerves. Brachial plexus injuries can be temporary or result in long-term paralysis.
  3. Facial Paralysis: Excessive pressure applied to the infant's face during delivery can cause serious nerve damage and limit the child's ability to move parts of his or her face. Facial paralysis can also occur as a result of the misuse of forceps, vacuum or other pieces of equipment used to move the baby out of the birth canal.

How can I determine whether my child has suffered a birth injury?

A newborn should be monitored for any apparent birth injuries or defects immediately after birth. Some signs of birth injury after delivery include blue or purple skin, lack of appetite, or especially rapid or slow breathing. If you notice any of these signs on your baby, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

It is also possible for birth injuries to present themselves months or even years later in a child's life. Birth injuries may cause motor impairments, vision or hearing problems, speech impediments or seizures in children later in life. If your child misses key developmental milestones during his or her early years, consult your pediatrician. 

How can I sue a doctor for birth injury malpractice?

If you or a loved one’s baby has experienced harm due to a doctor’s negligence or inadequate medical care during childbirth, the first thing you should do is hire a malpractice attorney. Your attorney will establish the fundamental facts of your case and advise you on how to proceed with a medical malpractice lawsuit. 

In order to avoid an expensive and lengthy lawsuit, your attorney may work with the doctor who delivered the baby to reach a settlement. Your case will be taken to court if the parties are unable to decide on a solution through mediation.

How do birth injury compensations work?

There are a few different types of compensation that you may be entitled to following a medical malpractice lawsuit for a birth injury. Settlements usually provide compensation for two main factors: economic damages for medical care and non-economic damages relating to the child and family’s quality of life. Compensation for economic damages may cover medical, caretaking or medication expenses. Non-economic damages may refer to the pain and suffering of the child, damage of family relationships and lack of enjoyment in life due to the birth injury.

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