Expectant parents have enough to worry about. When they go to the hospital, and the mother gives birth, it is supposed to be one of the most important and happy days in those parents’ lives, not one of the most tragic. Medical errors can happen in any procedure, but when they happen during birth, they can be especially tragic.
Some birth injuries are unavoidable, and the doctors cannot be held responsible for the errors because medical science has not yet figured out how to combat the problems, or because the injuries are just a part of giving birth.
Other injuries are avoidable, and only occur when a doctor fails to catch the signs and symptoms, or because of the medical staff’s own errors. Some of these injuries cause pain for the mother and child. Some cause the child to suffer conditions that might last for a long time. Others cause permanent injury to the child and have effects that will stay with the child for their entire life. The worst errors, though, result in the child’s death.
If your child suffers from a birth complication or injury and is now suffering its negative effects, you might have some recourse in the legal system. Medical malpractice attorneys help hold doctors and other healthcare professionals accountable for their mistakes and help patients recover financially for these doctors’ errors. In Baltimore, Bennet and Heyman, P.A., has lawyers who have been helping residents of Baltimore with a variety of cases for decades. To schedule a free legal consultation, contact us at (410) 429-7856, or contact us online.
Types of Birth Injuries
There are, unfortunately, many things that can go wrong during a child’s birth, and many different ways your child could be injured. These are some of the more common injuries:
Asphyxiation and Hypoxia
One of the most common things that can happen to a child during birth is hypoxia or asphyxiation, a lack of oxygen to the brain. Numerous things can cause hypoxia, such as delayed birth, getting tangled in the umbilical cord, or even some infections. When the brain loses oxygen, its various reactions to the low oxygen can cause permanent brain injury.
Cerebral palsy (CP) affects the brain’s ability to communicate with the body because of injury. It is not a disorder people are just born with or inherit – injury or improper brain development causes CP. That means that doctors who improperly use forceps or vacuums, mishandle the baby, or otherwise cause injury might be responsible. CP usually affects patients for the rest of their lives.
The brachial plexus is the name of the group of nerves that runs through the shoulder and into the arm and hand. If this area is cramped or damaged during birth, injury to these nerves can cause a baby permanent injury and paralysis in their arm. This injury usually occurs in a situation called shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s shoulders do not fit through the birth canal and require an emergency response. Klumpke’s palsy is similar, but starts lower down the arm, toward the wrist.
Similar to Erb’s palsy, pressure on the facial nerve can cause the face to be paralyzed. This is sometimes permanent. Typical symptoms include the inability to close the eye or move the face on one side and may require surgery to help correct.
Babies and mothers are prone to picking up many types of infections. It is easy to forget that birth is a medical procedure, especially if there is a cesarean section (C section). Strep infections (such as B streptococci infections) can lead to serious consequences. The following conditions can all be caused by an infection and can be extremely serious or even lead to death for an infant or even the death of the mother.
- Meningitis – Inflammation of the tissue that protects the brain and spinal cord
- Pneumonia – Lung inflammation
- Sepsis – A severe, life-threatening response from the immune system as it fights infection
Some of these conditions can lead to permanent organ or brain injury if they are severe enough.
Babies are small and fragile – and doctors are expected to understand this better than most. Sometimes, though, they use too much force. Whether they mishandle the baby, use forceps or a vacuum too forcefully, or wait too long to order an emergency C section, infants are prone to suffering physical injuries. These include broken bones, bruises, and cuts.
No matter what type of injury your infant has suffered, there is a chance that it was avoidable.
Proving Malpractice in a Birth Injury Case in Maryland
In any medical malpractice case, which includes birth injuries, there are four elements that must be proven by the patient (the “plaintiff”) about the healthcare provider (the “defendant”)’s actions:
- The healthcare provider owed the patient a duty.
- The healthcare provider breached that duty.
- The breach caused the patient (here, the infant) harm.
- The harm is something the court can compensate – known as “damages.”
The specific duty that a doctor owed a patient is defined by the situation, the information available to the doctor, and the proper medical techniques. This is referred to as the standard of care, and usually requires other doctors with similar qualifications to explain what the doctor should have done instead. If the doctor’s care was perfectly adequate, but problems happened anyway, then the doctor cannot be held responsible for them. There must be some failure on the doctor’s part.
Causation is also important, and ties in with this issue of fault. If the injuries would have occurred, no matter what, the doctor cannot be held responsible for the injuries. For instance, some situations are unfortunate, and medical science is unable to do anything to prevent death or injury. In these situations, no matter what the doctor does, the child dies anyway. Even if the doctor did commit some error, if the child would have died or suffered harm even without the error, the doctor may not be held responsible in the courts for that error.
It is also important to note that medical malpractice cases require the use of a qualified expert. This expert would be intricately aware of the type of injury your child sustained and will offer their opinion to determine whether the injury was, in fact, the cause of malpractice or another issue entirely. This means it is important to understand whether your child’s condition was the result of a birth injury or a congenital disability.
A birth injury is an injury to a child that was caused by negligent medical staff. A congenital disability is a medical condition that the child was likely predisposed to develop due to the genes of the parents.
When to File a Birth Injury Lawsuit
If you believe that your physician was responsible for an injury to your child during the delivery, you should not delay in bringing your case to an experienced birth injury lawyer. Waiting too long to file a birth injury lawsuit may trigger the statute of limitations deadline.
The statute of limitations dictates the amount of time that a plaintiff has to file a particular type of case. In Maryland, the statute of limitations for a medical malpractice claim stemming from a birth injury is five years from the date of the alleged malpractice. However, the deadline can also be three years from the date the injury was discovered by the patient. The appropriate date depends on which event was earlier, the date of the malpractice or the discovery of the malpractice.
If a plaintiff is not successful in filing their case within the allotted timeframe, the court will bar their claim from being filed. When this happens, the plaintiff may not have other legal options to pursue compensation for the injury to their child. That is why it is necessary to work with an attorney that understands what is at risk if your case is not timely filed with the court.
It may seem unfair that you have a deadline to pursue a claim against a doctor that injured your child, but the statute of limitations is in place to protect plaintiffs and defendants. On the plaintiff’s end, the courts want to ensure that the plaintiff is promptly pursuing their claim against the party that injured them. Alternatively, the courts also want to safeguard the defendant from constantly being worried about a potential lawsuit that may never be filed.
While you may have a few years to file your medical malpractice lawsuit, it is not wise to wait a significant amount of time before filing your case. There are a number of reasons to pursue compensation as soon as possible. For example, there is a possibility that evidence that you need to prove your case could be lost or destroyed. Additionally, if you are relying on witnesses to help prove your claim, their memories could become foggy as time passes.
If you are unsure about when the statute of limitations began to run on your claim, you should contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. Our firm can help you determine how long you have to file your lawsuit.
Baltimore Birth Injury Attorneys Offering Free Consultations
The experienced injury attorneys of Bennett and Heyman, P.A., understand the tragedy that new parents face when a delivery goes wrong because we have been helping clients through some of the most tragic injuries for decades. If you need help with your child’s birth injuries, contact us today.
Do not wait, though; your case may have important deadlines attached. For a free consultation with our attorneys, call us at (410) 429-7856.