When to Consider the Assistance of a Birth Injury Lawyer
Usually the birth of an infant goes smoothly, but some deliveries can become difficult, protracted, and dangerous to the health of the newborn. When the baby is large or in an awkward position, the birth can be delayed and complicated. There are always risks to the baby when delivery is assisted with forceps and similar tools, and if fetal distress occurs, the need for a Cesarean section (C-section) may become urgent. Birth injuries can result in brain damage, skeletal deformities, and severe nerve damage. Some conditions are treatable, but others, unfortunately, may become permanent.
Roughly 10,000 babies are diagnosed with cerebral palsy in the U.S. each year, and one out of five cases are caused by traumatic birth injury. Cerebral palsy is a form of brain damage that impairs control of movement and often causes seizures. It is not always recognizable at birth, and may not be diagnosed until a child is two or three years old. Cerebral palsy is a lifelong disorder with symptoms that may include mental retardation and vision, speech, hearing, or language problems. Severe head trauma or oxygen deprivation are birth injuries that may indicate medical malpractice.
Brachial palsy results from damage to the brachial plexus, a bundle of nerves running from the spine through the neck and armpit that is responsible for controlling the arm. Brachial plexus injuries that occur during birth are typically caused by forceps manipulation and other procedures used to deliver babies during difficult births. Brachial palsy is distinct from Erb's palsy in that it only affects the upper portion of the affected arm.
Similar to brachial palsy, Erb's palsy is caused by damage to the brachial plexus nerves around the infant's shoulder. It occurs during childbirth, when the infant's shoulders are pulled during a head-first delivery, or it can be a consequence of a breech birth. Erb's palsy can result in paralysis to part or all of the affected arm, and the limb may not grow to its full length. Erb's palsy differs from brachial palsy because it affects both the upper and lower portions of the arm. Sometimes occupational therapy can improve the condition, and surgery is another possible treatment.
Other birth injuries that may be tied to medical negligence include skull fractures and brain damage or developmental delays caused by lack of oxygen or head trauma. Additional injuries, such as broken bones, may not be classified as "serious," but require treatment that is difficult and expensive. Prolonged labor and forced extraction can cause bleeding between the baby's skull and its fibrous covering, known as cephalohematoma, which can lead to complications such as jaundice and infection. Facial nerve palsy is a consequence of forceps delivery that may require treatment.
Hundreds of years ago, injury and death during childbirth was common, both for infants and their mothers. Modern C-sections allow doctors to safely intervene in a difficult delivery to prevent injury and save lives. A C-section is an effective solution to a problem birth when it is timely and used appropriately. In cases where a C-section is not properly recommended or the doctor waits too long to perform surgery, a bad outcome can occur unnecessarily. Negligent errors in these cases may constitute malpractice.
Premature babies and those born with medical conditions may spend an extended period of time in the hospital's neonatal care unit (NCU). These fragile infants must be very closely monitored and will undergo routine and possibly extensive medical care procedures. A vulnerable newborn can experience injury or even death due to a doctor's misdiagnosis of their condition, receiving the wrong dose of medication, and other accidents. It is wise to have a lawyer go over the records of any baby admitted to the NCU after birth.