In life there are certain occasions that most people look forward to such as graduation, landing your first career, getting married, and starting a family. However, sometimes things don’t go as planned due to no fault of your own. Finding out that you are expecting a child is one of the greatest feelings in the world to most people. Parents-to-be are usually anxious, nervous and hope for everything to go smoothly with the pregnancy and the delivery of the baby. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
Birth injuries occur when there is some type of negligence that occurs during the delivery of a baby. Birth injuries are usually caused by negligence on behalf of the doctor(s) who delivered the child. Negligence is when there is a duty, that duty is breached, there is a causal link between the breach of the duty and the injuries, and actual injuries or damages. Birth injuries are typically a result of three different things: delayed birth, oxygen deprivation and medical malpractice.
When a woman goes into labor, it is a standard practice to not only monitor the mother, but to also keep a close eye on the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels. As a woman contracts, and her body compresses the baby, it is normal for the baby’s heart rate to drop because the baby is in temporary distress from the pressure. However, after the contraction, the heart rate should come back up. When the baby’s heart rate does not come back up as it should, this poses a problem and could be terminal. At this point, the delivering physician has a duty to decide to either continue with the vaginal birth process or to deliver the baby via an emergency cesarean section to take the baby out of distress. When a doctor fails to make this decision in a timely manner, this is delayed birth and can cause the child to have long term complications, short term complications or possibly even die. Since the baby’s brain is compressed too long when birth is delayed, the most common injuries that babies have once they are born include deficit disorders such as ADHD, Asperger’s and Autism.
Oxygen deprivation leads to brain injury if a baby goes too long being deprived of oxygen. Perinatal Hypoxia occurs when oxygen cannot get into the baby’s tissue either during birth or immediately after the baby is born. A baby can stop breathing either during labor, or immediately after delivery. If a baby goes too long without receiving oxygen to the brain, brain cells can die and lead to Cerebral Palsy, seizures and cognitive disabilities. There are different types of Cerebral Palsy and it can affect each child differently. The most common symptoms and complications include seizures, difficulty walking, tense muscles, lack of control of muscles and speech impediment.
Medical malpractice occurs when a physician does not give the expectant mother and/or the child the duty of care that is owed during the pregnancy, during the delivery and immediately after the baby has been delivered, and as a result the mother and/or the baby have injuries. Brachial Plexus is when a baby’s upper arm or shoulder is injured during delivery. This usually occurs when the baby’s head comes out, but due to the baby’s angle, the baby gets stuck. Usually the baby gets pushed back in and repositioned to avoid injuries. However, if the delivering physician does not take this step, the baby can suffer from permanent nerve damage, which is Erb’s Palsy. Typically, a baby will have weakness in whatever arm was injured during birth, but total paralysis is possible.
Another common form of malpractice during birth is when a baby is mishandled. For example, if a baby is too far in the birth canal and a cesarean section is not an option at that point, sometimes doctors must use tools such as a vacuum or forceps to help pull the baby out. It is imperative that the physician is careful while using these tools because if not, the baby can be injured and suffer from broken bones, lacerations or even a skull fracture.
Birth injures are not always clear cut as to who the responsibility falls on. For example, if an expectant mother has complications that she never told her doctor about, it then becomes fuzzy as to who is blamed for the injury. However, if the physician could have discovered the complication by doing testing, even without being told of complications, it’s likely that the physician is then responsible.
It is important to know that North Carolina does have strict statute of limitation deadlines which limit the time that a mother can file a medical malpractice claim for herself and/or on behalf of her child. Typically, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the injury, which is commonly the date of delivery. However, there are other intricacies surrounding statutes of limitations, which provide additional time for filing a claim. If you believe that your child has a birth injury as a result of medical malpractice, or if you have a question about you or your child’s statute of limitations, please call our office at (704) 714-1450 to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys.