Boston Birth Injury Attorney

The birth of a child should be one of a parent’s proudest moments. However, even with advances in modern medicine, complications can arise during birth that can affect both the child and mother. Also called birth trauma, these injuries can be due to either a doctor’s negligence during birth or mistakes made during prenatal care.

Are Birth Injuries Preventable?

Some birth injuries are absolutely preventable and others are extremely hard to avoid even under the best care. For this reason it is advisable to speak with an experienced birth injury attorney about the details of your case and your best options for action and closure.

Like in other medical malpractice cases, whether a birth injury should have been prevented depends largely on whether your medical professionals met a certain standard of care: the skill and service expected of any reasonable medical professional with the same background and experience. In other words: would another doctor/nurse/midwife have made the same decisions, or were unreasonable mistakes made?

For example, if a birth injury took place because the medical team was not regularly monitoring the baby’s vital signs, they were likely acting negligently. But if a birth injury was caused by a sudden, unpredictable issue and could not have been fixed even with all of the right actions, it may have been unpreventable.

To discover if your loved one’s birth injury should have been prevented, you need to examine all of the evidence in your case and speak with legal and medical experts.

Common Birth Injuries

Some birth injuries do not manifest immediate symptoms, while others are directly evident after birth. Babies who suffer birth injuries sometimes display symptoms such as:

  • Preeclampsia. This potentially life threatening condition affects at least 5-8% of pregnancies, wherein the mother can suffer from high blood pressure, kidney damage, and various other complications. The earlier the condition develops, the more serious it becomes. If not recognized early or treated properly, it can lead to stillbirth in infants and death in the mother.
  • Bruising. Some birth equipment might cause bruising on the body or head of the child. This is more common with “tug” instruments like forceps and vacuum equipment. Bruising and lacerations can lead to other, more severe problems in the mother as well.
  • Paralysis. Extreme pressure exerted on the baby can injure his or her nervous system. Paralysis is easy to detect when babies feed and cry. Sometimes they cannot move certain facial muscles or one eye does not completely close. This could lead to permanent nerve damage that requires surgery.
  • Bone breaks and fractures. Clavicles and collarbones are easily damaged during delivery, especially if the baby is improperly positioned. The baby will instinctively avoid moving to prevent feeling pain, though splints or other treatments will still be needed.
  • Cerebral Palsy This is caused by a brain injury or malformation that can occur during birth which affects motor functions and muscle coordination for the rest of a person’s life.
  • Bleeding. Blood may accumulate in the skull due to the rupture of a blood vessel during delivery. This can cause a lack of oxygen in blood flow or deformity of the skull bones.
  • Brachial Plexus injury. Also known as Brachial Plexus palsy (BPP) or Erb’s palsy, this relatively common birth injury occurs when the group of nerve fibers running through the neck and down the arm become damaged during birth. This damage can be caused by a number of factors, including the use of forceps or vacuum, a breech birth, or shoulder dystocia.
  • Discoloration. A baby who suffers oxygen deprivation may appear blue, purple, or pale in color.
  • Abnormal heart rate. Some birth injuries can slow a baby’s heart rate or cause an irregular heartbeat.
  • Breathing problems. An injured newborn may have trouble breathing. Many newborns placed in intensive care require respiration machines or other assistance breathing.
  • Feeding problems. Babies are born with the instinct to seek out their mothers and nurses. When babies show little interest in eating or have difficulty eating, these may be signs of a birth injury.
  • Odd movement. A baby who suffers a musculoskeletal injury could have difficulty controlling certain parts of his or her body. Some babies will have seizures that affect the legs, arms, and facial muscles.

Prenatal Injury

Though technology has made childbirth increasingly safe, there is still potential for birth injuries to occur. Medical malpractice can happen during pregnancy or during the labor itself. Some common causes are:

  • Failure to diagnose birth defects that could be improved or corrected with fetal surgery, as is the case with some heart defects.
  • Failure to diagnose an ectopic pregnancy, leading to tubal rupture, infertility, or death.
  • Failure to identify any condition of the mother, like placenta previa, which can lead to sepsis, shock, and death.
  • Negligent attitude toward fetal distress, which can lead to permanent brain damage or death.
  • Not ordering a C-section when one could be deemed best for the health of the mother or the child (for example, doctors generally order these when labor has stalled to prevent infection or breathing problems in the baby).

Medication Errors Cause Birth Injuries

Many mothers in labor require various medications to assist in the delivery process. Some medications reduce pain while others help the mother’s body deliver her baby. Unfortunately, medication errors can cause serious birth injuries, and any errors with delivery medication, anesthesia, or other medications during the delivery process constitute medical malpractice.

Some medications that were in use for years in delivery rooms are no longer acceptable for use, now that medical researchers have determined them to be dangerous. For example, Cytotec is an anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal drug originally developed to combat stomach ulcers. Despite its intended use, it was widely known as helpful for inducing labor. While many doctors used this method for deliveries, researchers later discovered that Cytotec can cause uterine hyper-stimulation or even uterine ruptures, medical issues that can be life-threatening to both mother and child.

Doctors who use unapproved treatments, off-label applications of medicines, or otherwise fail to properly dispense medications to their patients are violating the acceptable standard of care in these practices, and are guilty of medical malpractice. Other medication errors can include anesthesia errors. Some mothers require anesthesia for difficult deliveries, and any mistake can cause oxygen deprivation to the baby and abnormal uterine contractions in the mother, among other problems.

Legal Implications

Although it may not happen often, occasionally a doctor may commit and error during delivery. Negligence may harm the child, the mother, or both. This could be due to a failure to control the mother’s blood loss during delivery or the baby’s oxygen levels. If a medication causes a problem with the birth, you might have a claim against the pharmaceutical manufacturer instead of the physician.

It is challenging to know if the problems are due to a birth defect or negligence on the part of a drug company or the medical staff. Some complication may be due to a combination of the two. It is important to request an examination to determine fault. Not all birth injuries are preventable, which means that not every injury raises a valid claim.

In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations on birth injury claims is three years and the case must be filed before the child’s 9th birthday. There is also a modified law for children under the age of six so due to this short statute, it is important to gather evidence quickly to resolve the case.

To satisfy a claim, you need to somehow prove fault beyond all reasonable doubt. If you want to lodge a claim against your doctor, you must prove he or she did not provide standard medical care. Your attorney will need to consult with other medical experts to gauge what is considered standard care, then prove the doctor failed to meet this standard.

Medical error is a more difficult to prove than most other injury claims because often times, the evidence shows the injury would have occurred despite obvious negligence. This is broken down into three steps:

  • The medical staff, pharmaceutical company, or equipment manufacturer owed a certain level of care to you or the child.
  • The defendant failed to meet the standard of care that any other professional in the same circumstances would have met.
  • The defendant’s actions directly led to injury to you or your child.

Birth Injury Statistics & Facts

Birth injuries are relatively rare in the United States, but that can be small comfort to a family whose special, miraculous day has turned into a time of worry, anger, doubt, and confusion. While preventable birth injuries have been dropping over time, they still happen every day.

According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), almost 157,700 potentially avoidable injuries to mothers and newborns occurred during childbirth in 2006. The most common cause of birth injuries was trauma from vaginal birth instruments: forceps and vacuums.  Statistics show that birth trauma occurs in less than 2 out of every 1,000 live births, but that number is when the mother is white:

Here are some more important facts and figures about birth injuries in the United States:

  • According to a National Healthcare Quality Report, 6.68 birth trauma injuries were reported per 1,000 live births in the United States in 2000but that number fell to 1.91 by 2012.
  • According to the same report, birth injuries are more common in larger, urban hospitals.
  • According to HCUP, birth injuries cross class and income lines: babies and mothers of all income brackets are similarly affected by birth injuries.
  • The most common birth injuries, according to Stanford Children’s Health</a, include scalp swelling and bruising, cranial bleeding, eye hemorrhages, fractures, facial palsy, Brachial Plexus palsy, and cerebral palsy.
  • The most common causes of birth injuries, also according to Stanford, include premature labor, large babies, breech babies, prolonged labor, and the size and shape of the mother’s pelvis.
  • The Mayo Clinic reports that a forceps delivery can result in a number of birth injuries, including facial palsy, bruising, eye trauma, skull fracture, bleeding, and seizures.
  • The Mayo Clinic also reports that a vacuum delivery can result in birth injuries like scalp wounds, skull fracture, bleeding within the skull, and brachial plexus injuries.

At Sweeney Merrigan, the families we work with are far more than statistics. We understand that behind each of these numbers are real families and real babies. We hope that our legal work holds medical professionals and hospitals responsible for their mistakes and elevates care for mothers and their babies across Massachusetts.

What is the Difference Between a Birth Injury and Birth Defect?

While birth injuries are generally caused by negligent behavior during delivery, birth defects are caused by something that happened prior to birth. It’s estimated that 7% of all babies are born with some form of defect or irregularity. Defects can be caused by a number of different factors, including heredity or actions taken by the mother or father during pregnancy such as alcohol or drug use. Because of their very nature, it can be very difficult to pinpoint the cause of a defect and therefore  win legal compensation. Moreover, the defense may try and classify the injury as a defect rather than an injury. Be sure to speak with a local attorney before pursuing a claim involving a potential defect.

A birth injury takes place during labor and delivery. It is never caused by genetic factors, although some genetic factors (such as the size, weight, or strength of the baby) may make the child more susceptible to birth injuries. Some birth injuries are temporary, while other can cause lifelong disabilities or health issues. Some birth injuries are preventable while others are not.

Birth defects are not often cause for a medical malpractice case (unless the birth defect should have been detected and was not, with serious consequences). Preventable birth injuries, however, may be instances of medical malpractice and your family could be owed compensation and justice.

Preventing Birth Injuries

One of the most tragic and ultimately frustrating aspects of birth injuries is that the vast majority of them are preventable. Birth injuries fall under the purview of medical malpractice law because doctors who deliver newborns must exercise the appropriate level of care for the situation. Many birth injuries happen due to a doctor’s failure to properly monitor the baby’s vital signs during delivery. Doctors are also responsible for ensuring mothers receive appropriate prenatal care and regularly checking the baby’s development in utero.

While it falls to doctors to perform their work with the highest possible degree of care, mothers and fathers can help protect their future children from birth injuries by taking the time to choose an obstetrician with a stellar record. A good obstetrician will provide thorough, consistent prenatal care throughout the pregnancy and assist in delivery. Mothers should carefully vet their doctors and also familiarize themselves with the signs of prenatal distress. Knowing these signs is crucial to healthy deliveries and can often prevent birth injuries.

Contact Us

You and your child deserve the full support of the law to live a happy, healthy life. If you or a loved one has suffered due to a birth injury, and you suspect negligence, immediately contact Sweeney Merrigan Law. We have decades of collective experience handling these types of case, and we can help you navigate your claim as subject to Massachusetts law.