The pain of losing an infant is immeasurable, and when such a loss occurs due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, the emotional burden can be almost unbearable. In such circumstances, understanding the legal avenues available for seeking justice and holding responsible parties accountable can bring some sense of comfort and closure to grieving families.
This article will explain the legal aspects surrounding infant wrongful death and the rights of affected families during this unimaginably difficult time.
What is infant (neonatal) wrongful death?
Infant or neonatal wrongful death occurs when a baby dies due to medical negligence within the first 28 days of life. Some cases of infant wrongful death, such as those caused by birth defects, cannot be prevented. However, those stemming from medical negligence and medical mistakes, such as a failure to recognize and respond when the fetus is in distress or the improper use of instruments (like forceps), are preventable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 20,000 infants in the U.S. died in 2020 before their first birthday. Preterm birth, injuries and maternal complications were among the top 5 causes of death.
Can a childbirth injury cause death?
While most birth injuries are not life-threatening and can be treated with appropriate medical care, there are certain complications during pregnancy, labor and delivery that can result in the untimely death of a baby. Some birth injuries are more likely to lead to the wrongful death of an infant, including severe asphyxiation (oxygen deprivation), spinal cord damage and brain hemorrhage.
Depending on the circumstances of your child’s injury and whether or not a doctor’s or other medical professional’s negligence contributed to the injury, you may be able to file a birth injury lawsuit.
What are the most common causes of infant wrongful death?
Doctors have a duty of care to provide a recognized standard of medical care. Whether or not a mother has complications during labor or delivery, doctors and other medical professionals must be diligent during the birth of a child to ensure the safety of both mother and baby.
Some of the most frequent causes of infant wrongful death due to negligence include the following:
- Asphyxia. Asphyxia during pregnancy and labor occurs when the baby’s oxygen supply is compromised, leading to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) or a complete absence of oxygen (anoxia). Without medical intervention, this lack of oxygen can lead to numerous birth injuries (like cerebral palsy and epilepsy) and even death.
- Traumatic birth injuries. Traumatic birth injuries, especially those caused by the negligent use of forceps or a vacuum extractor, can result in severe injuries that lead to the wrongful deaths of babies during or after birth.
- Failure to order a cesarean section (C-section). In some cases, a mother might need a C-section to deliver if her baby is too big or her labor isn’t progressing and the baby is in distress. Failure to perform a timely C-section can result in a baby’s death.
- Medication errors. Errors with medication during pregnancy, labor or delivery can lead to infant wrongful death.
- Misdiagnosis. A medical misdiagnosis can lead to birth injuries and infant wrongful death. If a doctor makes a mistake and fails to diagnose a condition in an infant before or after birth that leads to death, they may be guilty of medical negligence.
What causes asphyxiation during childbirth?
There are many different factors that can cause asphyxiation during childbirth, some of which are the result of medical negligence. They include the following:
- Umbilical cord problems. Knots in the umbilical cord, cord compression caused by prolapse, or the cord becoming wrapped around the baby’s neck can restrict blood flow and oxygen supply.
- Premature birth. Babies born prematurely, prior to the 37th week of pregnancy, are more likely to have underdeveloped lungs and experience a lack of oxygen.
- Infections during pregnancy. Certain maternal infections, such as chorioamnionitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the fetus), can affect the baby’s health and oxygen levels.
- Prolonged or difficult labor. Prolonged labor caused by a large baby or a baby that isn’t in the optimal position for delivery (fetal malposition) can place stress on the baby, leading to oxygen deprivation.
- Meconium aspiration. If the baby inhales meconium, the first feces, along with amniotic fluid, it could lead to asphyxiation.
- Uterine rupture. While rare, a uterine rupture, in which the uterus tears and splits open, can sometimes happen due to medication or during a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), leading to suffocation.
- Amniotic fluid embolism. Although rare, if amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream, it can lead to an allergic reaction and cause asphyxia.
- Maternal blood pressure issues. High blood pressure during pregnancy, called preeclampsia, and low blood pressure can decrease the oxygen supply to the fetus.
- Lack of maternal oxygen. When the mother has low oxygen levels in her blood, it could cause asphyxia in the infant.
- Anesthesia complications. Improper administration of anesthesia during labor can affect the baby’s respiratory function.
What types of traumatic birth injuries can lead to death?
Certain traumatic birth injuries are more likely to lead to the death of a baby. Some of the most common include the following:
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This condition occurs when blood and oxygen flow to the baby’s brain are severely compromised during delivery. It causes the brain cells to die and often leads to cerebral palsy or even death.
- Intracranial hemorrhage. Bleeding in the brain can result from oxygen deprivation, a prolonged or difficult delivery, premature birth, abnormal fetal position, or improper use of instruments.
- Spinal cord injuries. Trauma to the spinal cord during birth can result in paralysis or fatal complications.
- Skull fractures. A severe skull fracture can occur when the doctor uses assistive devices like forceps during childbirth. Complications from a skull fracture can lead to infant wrongful death.
If your baby died after experiencing any of these injuries during birth, you should consider discussing your case with an experienced birth injury lawyer who can help you determine if medical negligence may have been the cause.
What are my legal options after an infant wrongful death?
If your baby’s death was caused by a medical mistake (including a failure to diagnose or treat a problem), you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent parties.
This may include healthcare providers, hospitals, manufacturers of defective products, or any other entity whose negligence or recklessness contributed to the tragedy.
If you’re looking for legal help after a birth injury or infant wrongful death, it’s important to know what to look for and which questions to ask.
What compensation is available through an infant wrongful death lawsuit?
In an infant wrongful death settlement, the available compensation, also known as damages, may vary depending on the circumstances of the case and the applicable laws in your state. Some common types of compensation that may be pursued include the following:
- Funeral and burial expenses. The family may be entitled to compensation for the reasonable costs associated with the infant’s funeral and burial services.
- Medical expenses. If medical treatment was provided to the infant before their passing, the family may seek compensation for those medical expenses.
- Lost wages. Families may be entitled to lost wages that resulted because of their baby’s death.
- Loss of companionship. Parents may seek compensation for the loss of companionship, love and support they would have received from their child had they survived.
- Emotional distress. The emotional distress experienced by the parents and family members as a result of the child’s wrongful death may also be considered for compensation.
An experienced attorney specializing in infant wrongful death cases can help assess the potential compensation available and advocate for the family’s rights to seek appropriate damages for their loss.
How do you prove liability in an infant wrongful death claim?
Doctors and other medical professionals owe a duty of care to their patients. Proving liability in an infant wrongful death claim requires establishing that another party’s negligence or wrongful actions directly caused the child’s death.
This process typically involves the following steps:
- Establishing a duty of care. The attorney must demonstrate that the party being sued owed a duty of care to the infant to provide competent and appropriate medical care.
- Establishing a breach of duty. It must be proven that the party being sued breached their duty of care. This means showing that their actions or lack of action fell below the standard of care expected in a similar situation.
- Proving causation. The attorney must establish a direct link between the breach of duty and the infant’s death. This requires demonstrating that the party’s actions or negligence were a substantial factor in causing the fatal outcome.
- Demonstrating damages. Finally, it must be shown that the infant’s wrongful death resulted in damages, such as funeral expenses, medical bills, emotional distress and loss of support or companionship.
What evidence is needed in an infant wrongful death case?
To successfully prove liability in an infant wrongful death claim, the plaintiff’s attorney needs to present a compelling case supported by strong evidence. Expert witnesses, medical professionals, and accident reconstruction specialists may be called upon to provide testimony and opinions to strengthen the claim. Medical records and photo or video evidence can be crucial as well.
An experienced attorney specializing in wrongful death cases can help you navigate the complexities of the legal process and build a robust case to seek justice and compensation for your loss.
Contact an experienced infant wrongful death lawyer
Losing a precious baby is a heartbreaking tragedy that no family should ever have to endure. While nothing can fully heal the pain of such a loss, pursuing legal action against those responsible can provide a sense of justice and closure.
If you’ve lost a baby and you believe medical negligence may be to blame, contact the experienced birth injury attorney Laura Brown at Brown Trial Firm. Laura has dedicated her practice to advocating for children and families affected by birth injuries. She offers free initial consultations to give you the advice you need to make an informed decision and move forward.
Contact her today for a free consultation of your case.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 10). Infant mortality. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/infantmortality.htm
- Cerebral Palsy
- Caput Succedaneum and Cephalohematoma
- Neonatal Intracranial Hemorrhage (Childbirth Brain Bleeds)
- Hydrocephalus (Extra Fluid in the Brain Cavity)
- Cervical Dystonia
- Hemiplegia (Brain or Spinal Cord Injury)
- Hemorrhagic Stroke
- Neonatal Stroke
- Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL) Brain Injury
- Infant Seizures
- Spastic Diplegia (Spasticity in the Legs)
- Top Risks for Birth Injuries
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
- G-Tubes for Newborns
- Medical Errors
- Cesarean Section & Birth Injury
- Negligence in Brain Cooling Treatment
- Craniosacral Therapy
- Occupational Therapy
- Speech Therapy
- Transition From Pediatric to Adult Healthcare
- Surgical Options for Spastic Cerebral Palsy
- Fetal Intolerance to Labor
- Jaundice (Kernicterus)
- Breech Position
- Placental Complications
- Placental Problems
- Umbilical Cord Problems
- Uterine Rupture
- Cervical Incompetence (Insufficiency)
- Blighted Ovum
- Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) - Intestinal Inflammation
- Cephalopelvic Disproportion
- Meconium Aspiration Syndrome
- Amniotic Fluid Embolism
- Birth Injury from Premature Delivery
- Developmental Delays
- Abnormal Cord Insertion
- Infections at Birth
- Chorioamnionitis Bacterial Infection
- Premature birth
- Oxygen Deprivation
- Birth-Acquired Herpes
- Placenta Previa
- Placental Abruption
- Mismanaged Fetal Malposition
- Rapid Labor
- Obesity Related Birth Injuries
- Intrauterine Growth Restriction
- Blood Clots During Pregnancy
- Ectopic Pregnancy Misdiagnosis
- Myths & Facts About Birth Injuries
- Bacterial Vaginosis
- Gestational Diabetes
- Maternal Mortality Risk
- Oligohydramnios (Low Amniotic Fluid)
- Infections During Pregnancy
- Excessive Bleeding During Pregnancy