Each year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about 1 in every 33 infants born in the U.S. have a birth defect. January is National Birth Defects Awareness Month and Menzer Law supports the CDC’s nationwide effort to raise awareness of this issue and the impact birth defects can have on individuals, parents, and families.
Birth defects can happen for many reasons. Although not all can be prevented, parents can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by managing health conditions and adopting healthy behaviors before and during pregnancy. The CDC, among other organizations, plays an important role in raising awareness about birth defects and providing information to improve the health and well-being of people living with these conditions across their lifespan.
What Are Birth Defects?
A birth defect is a problem that happens while a baby is developing in the mother’s body. They can occur during any stage of pregnancy but most happen in the first three months of pregnancy, when the organs of the baby are forming.
A birth defect may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Some birth defects are structural problems that are easier to identify, like cleft lip. Others, like heart disease, require special tests to identify. Still others, such as Down Syndrome, are caused by changes in genes. Birth defects can cover a broad range from mild to severe. How a birth defect affects a child’s life mostly depends on which organ or body part is involved and how severe the defect is.
Raising Awareness of Birth Defects Across the Lifespan
Advancements in medicine and surgery have led to higher rates of survival, so more infants born with birth defects today can grow up to lead full lives. Awareness of birth defects across the lifespan helps provide individuals, parents, and families affected by birth defects the information they need to seek proper care. To that end, the CDC has developed a toolkit for parents, which can be found here, that discusses some of knowledge that scientists have gained:
• Birth defects prevention before and during pregnancy
• Survival and health of infants with birth defects
• Educational needs and special healthcare needs for children with birth defects
• Transition from pediatric to adult medical care for adolescents
• Planning for pregnancy, recurrence prevention, and genetics and family history for adults with birth defects
Birth Injuries Versus Birth Defects
Birth injuries and birth defects may sound similar, but they can result in very different outcomes in a legal case. If your baby appears to have a medical condition at birth, you’ll likely have dozens of questions about what caused it and wonder if it is genetic, if it was caused by something you did or didn’t do, or – in some cases – if the doctor made a mistake during prenatal care or during the labor and delivery. These are all valid concerns, and the answers can help determine if you have a valid claim for medical malpractice.
Before considering legal action, it’s important to distinguish between birth defects, also called congenital disorders or disabilities, and birth injuries. As discussed above, a congenital disorder is a condition that comes about during your child’s early development. It might be because of genetics or the environment. Birth injuries can happen when something goes wrong during the pregnancy or birth.
Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice
The 10 most common birth injuries associated with medical malpractice stem from injuries sustained during childbirth and include the following:
- Brachial Plexus Palsy (Erb’s Palsy)
A weakness or paralysis in parts of the arm because of significant injury to the brachial plexus. The most common type of brachial plexus palsy is called Erb’s palsy
- Caput succedaneum
Caput succedaneum is a swelling of the scalp in a newborn. It is most often brought on by pressure from the uterus or vaginal wall during a head-first delivery.
A cephalohematoma is an accumulation of blood under the scalp. During the birth process, trauma can cause the small blood vessels on the head of the fetus to break.
- Cerebral palsy
Cerebral palsy can sometimes be caused by damage to a baby’s brain during or shortly after birth. For example, brain damage can be due to the brain temporarily not getting enough oxygen (asphyxiation) during a difficult birth, an infection of the brain, such as meningitis, or a serious head injury.
- Facial paralysis
Congenital facial nerve palsy is defined as palsy of the 7th cranial nerve that is present at birth or that occurs shortly afterward. It is believed to result from birth trauma, intrauterine posture, intrauterine compression, or congenital aplasia of the facial nerve nucleus.
- Fractured collarbones
The fracture of the clavicle or collarbone is the most common fracture during labor and delivery. The clavicle may break when there is trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder or during a breech delivery.
When bleeding occurs in a baby’s skull, under the two innermost layers of the brain covering, the baby may be suffering from subarachnoid hemorrhage or intracranial hemorrhage. A subconjunctival hemorrhage can occur when a blood vessel in the eye bursts and is the result of pressure variations during the birth.
- Oxygen Deprivation
Babies with mild or moderate asphyxia may recover fully. If the cells did not get enough oxygen for a longer time, a baby may have permanent injury. This could include injury to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, bowels, or other organs.
- Perinatal asphyxia
Perinatal asphyxia is a lack of blood flow or gas exchange to or from the fetus in the period immediately before, during, or after the birth process. Perinatal asphyxia can result in profound systemic and neurologic sequelae due to decreased blood flow and/or oxygen to a fetus or infant during the peripartum period.
- Spinal cord injuries
A spinal cord birth injury can occur when doctors strain a child’s neck by pulling, twisting or using tools to remove the baby from the birth canal. Undiagnosed damage to the spine before birth can also result in a spinal cord injury during delivery.
- Brachial Plexus Palsy (Erb’s Palsy)
Three Elements of Birth-Related Medical Malpractice
Because a birth injury is potentially caused by medical negligence, it is important to seek the counsel of a birth injury lawyer, who usually specializes their practice under the legal category of “Medical Malpractice,” if you or your child suffered a serious injury during pregnancy or birth. Three elements must be proved to make a claim for medical malpractice:
- The provider was negligent
“Negligence” in a medical malpractice claim refers to violating the standard of care. The medical profession has certain standards that are recognized and accepted as reasonable, according to health care professionals acting under similar circumstances. Health care providers measure their standards against one another, both practically and legally. If you suffered an injury and the provider deviated from the standard of care followed by most similarly qualified providers (e.g., doctors, nurses or pharmacists), you may have a meritorious malpractice claim.
- Negligence caused the injury
Complications during birth can occur and sometimes a negligent provider may claim an injury was not caused by or related to the alleged malpractice. In a medical malpractice claim, one must prove that the birth injury or condition directly resulted from the health care provider’s negligence.
- There are significant damages
- The provider was negligent
The patient (or the parent on behalf of a child patient) must show that the injury has resulted in substantial impacts and damages involving permanent impairments or disabilities, significant past and future pain and suffering, and significant past and future expenses for medical treatment, home health care, etc.
Birth-related injuries and medical malpractice law can involve complex medical and legal issues. Therefore, it’s important to seek help from an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can help you quickly obtain the necessary medical records and preserve evidence to protect your rights and the rights of your newborn child.
There are time limits for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, including those resulting from birth injuries, so it is important to investigate and file a medical malpractice claim well within the time limits for your state. In Washington state the statute of limitations for medical negligence is generally three years from the dates of the alleged negligence or one year from when you discovered or reasonably could have discovered the medical provider’s negligence. Exceptions to these rules may apply, but parents must generally abide by these time limitations for their claims, while the time limits for the child’s claim will begin to run when the child turns 18 years old.
How Menzer Law Can Help
A birth injury malpractice claim is often the best way to secure damages and compensation for a child’s birth injuries. If you successfully obtain a reasonable settlement or a judgment for a birth injury, it should cover current and future medical, care and educational expenses arising from the birth injury. It should also provide compensation for the child’s physical and emotional pain and suffering, and the parents’ financial losses and losses to the parent / child relationship.
If you or your child has sustained a birth injury you believe was caused by medical negligence, Menzer Law can help. With more than 30 years of medical malpractice experience, Attorney Matt Menzer and his colleagues can help you determine the potential responsibility of the doctor, nurse or hospital, the extent of the child’s injuries, and potential amount of money that may be needed to address the child’s injuries in both the short and long term.
We’ll pair our deep legal experience and expertise with individual quality care to achieve the best possible results for you and your family. This experience extends to all phases of the litigation process, from case investigation to complex discovery, preparation of expert medical testimony, and pretrial motions, settlement, and trial.
Contact Us Today
If you believe you may have a birth injury case, call us at 206.649.1657 and we’ll provide a complimentary review of your claim. You can also fill out our online contact form. We accept medical malpractice cases on a contingency fee basis. That means there are no upfront fees; you only pay us after we recover compensation through a settlement or jury trial.
Disclaimer: This content is written for educational purposes and is intended to provide general information and understanding of the law. The information should not be as a substitute of legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.