When you’re expecting a new addition to your family, the last thing you want to think about is what could go wrong. Unfortunately, birth injuries happen far more often than we’d like to believe—and they can turn a moment of pure joy into a lifetime of challenges.
If you suspect that medical negligence is the cause of your child’s birth injury, you’ve come to the right place.
At Brown Trial Firm, we understand that no amount of compensation can undo the emotional and physical trauma your family has endured, but you shouldn’t have to bear the financial burden of someone else’s mistake to provide for your child’s needs.
That’s where we come in.
Experienced Des Moines birth injury attorney Laura Brown is deeply committed to fighting for the justice and financial relief your family so rightfully deserves. With years of experience navigating the complexities of medical malpractice cases, she’ll work tirelessly to hold the responsible parties accountable.
Are you considering filing a birth injury lawsuit?
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What is birth trauma?
Birth trauma refers to physical injuries sustained by a newborn during the labor and delivery process. Unlike birth injuries, which can encompass harm caused before, during or shortly after birth, the term “birth trauma” is specifically focused on physical harm that occurs as the baby passes through the birth canal.
While some birth traumas are minor and heal without long-term effects, others can lead to more serious, lifelong conditions. It’s worth noting that not all birth trauma is the result of medical negligence; some may occur despite the best efforts of health care providers.
Common examples of birth trauma
- Intracranial hemorrhage. This is bleeding under the baby’s skull, often caused by the use of vacuum extractors or forceps during delivery.
- Fractures. These can occur when there is excessive force applied during delivery or when delivery instruments like forceps are used incorrectly. Fractures can happen to many areas of the body, including the skull, clavicle (collarbone), legs and arms.
- Spinal cord injuries. Though rare, these can occur from excessive pulling or twisting of the baby during delivery, causing potential lifelong consequences.
- Cephalohematoma. This is a pooling of blood between the baby’s skull and the periosteum (membrane covering the bones). It often occurs due to the use of forceps or vacuum extractors.
What is a birth injury, and how does it differ from a birth trauma?
While the terms “birth injury” and “birth trauma” are sometimes used interchangeably, a birth injury encompasses a broader range of harm that can occur before, during or shortly after the labor and delivery process, whereas a birth trauma is more specific, focusing on physical harm caused during the actual process of birth.
Birth injuries can involve not just mechanical forces but also issues like a lack of oxygen or medication errors. They include both physical trauma like fractures as well as neurological or developmental issues like cerebral palsy.
Like birth traumas, birth injuries can be caused by medical negligence, natural complications or a combination of factors.
Common examples of birth injuries
- Cerebral palsy. This is a neurological disorder that affects muscle coordination and movement. It’s often caused by a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain during labor or delivery.
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This is brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen and blood flow. It may be caused by complications like umbilical cord problems, placental abruption, or a delayed cesarean section (C-section).
- Brachial plexus injury (including Erb’s palsy and Klumpke’s palsy). These injuries affect the nerves that control the arm muscles. They often occur when excessive force is applied during delivery, especially in shoulder dystocia situations.
- Facial nerve injury. This can occur if there’s pressure on the baby’s face during delivery or the use of forceps. It affects the nerves controlling facial muscles.
Notable infant birth and mortality rates in Iowa
In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Iowa’s fertility rate stood at 60.8 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. This figure is marginally higher than the U.S. average, which was 56.3 births per 1,000 women in the same age group.
The March of Dimes also reported that 10% of babies in Iowa were born prematurely in 2021, translating to 1 in 10 infants being born before full term. Also, about 1 in 15 babies in Iowa were born with a low birth weight.
How do you know if your baby has a birth trauma or injury?
Determining whether your baby has experienced a birth trauma or injury involves a combination of observations, medical examinations and diagnostic tests.
Here are some potential signs:
- Physical marks or abnormalities. Look for any noticeable bruising, swelling or abrasions, especially on the baby’s head, face or shoulders.
- Difficulty breathing. Respiratory distress like grunting, flaring nostrils or a bluish skin color may indicate issues.
- Lack of movement or weakness. Pay attention to any lethargy, limpness or inability to move limbs, as this could indicate nerve or muscular damage.
- Facial asymmetry. If the baby’s face does not move symmetrically while crying or smiling, this could indicate facial nerve damage.
- High-pitched or weak crying. An unusually high-pitched or weak cry could be a symptom of neurological issues.
- Feeding difficulties. Struggles with sucking, swallowing or digesting could be a sign of a birth injury.
- Seizures. Uncontrolled spasms or movements may indicate neurological trauma.
- Developmental delays. If a baby fails to reach developmental milestones at the expected times, it could be a result of a birth injury.
If you suspect your baby has experienced birth trauma or injury, a comprehensive medical evaluation is essential. In cases of uncertainty, seeking a second opinion is often advisable to confirm the diagnosis and treatment plan.
You should also consult an attorney experienced in birth injury cases who can guide you through the process of confirming whether the trauma or injury was preventable and if your child may be entitled to compensation.
Who’s typically responsible for a birth injury?
In a birth injury case, the primary party often considered liable is the physician who delivered your baby or treated you during pregnancy. Doctors have a legal and ethical obligation to adhere to established medical standards and protocols during prenatal care, labor and delivery. Failure to do so can result in negligence or malpractice, making them liable for any resulting birth injuries.
Aside from the doctor, other parties that could potentially be held liable include:
- Nurses and medical staff
- Hospitals and health care facilities
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Medical device manufacturers
As a first-time parent, it’s agonizing to see my young son struggling with developmental delays, and I can’t shake the feeling that it’s connected to the lack of oxygen he experienced during birth.
Understanding who may be liable in a birth injury case can be complex and usually requires the expertise of legal and medical professionals to untangle the web of responsibility.
How do you prove a health care provider caused a birth injury?
To prove negligence in a birth injury case, it must first be established that the health care provider owed a “duty of care” to the patient. In medical settings, this duty of care exists inherently when a health care provider agrees to treat a patient.
For birth injuries, the duty extends not just to the mother but also to the newborn child. The standard for this care is generally based on what a reasonably competent health care provider in the same specialty would do under similar circumstances.
Once the duty of care is established, the next step is to prove that there was a breach of that duty. This means showing that the care provided fell below the accepted medical standards.
After establishing a breach of duty, you must then prove causation—that is, show a direct link between the health care provider’s breach of duty and the injury suffered. This is often the most challenging aspect and generally requires expert medical testimony to show that the injury was not just a natural occurrence but was directly caused by the health care provider’s actions or omissions.
Finally, to successfully claim compensation, it needs to be demonstrated that the injury led to specific damages, whether they are economic (like medical bills or loss of income) or non-economic (like pain and suffering).
What are common defenses used in birth injury cases?
In birth injury lawsuits, the defending parties often employ various legal strategies to counter claims of negligence or malpractice. While the specifics can vary depending on the details of the case, some common defenses include the following:
- Standard of care. The defendant may argue that the care provided met the medical standard of care under the circumstances, meaning that they acted in a manner that any reasonable health care provider would have in the same situation.
- Causation. Even if there was a departure from the standard of care, the defense might argue that this did not directly result in the birth injury, attempting to break the chain of causation that is essential for a plaintiff to succeed.
- Pre-existing condition. The defense may claim that the birth injury was the result of a pre-existing medical condition or genetic disorder rather than an act of negligence or malpractice.
- Informed consent. Defendants might argue that the risks were explained to the parents and that they consented to the procedure or treatment that led to the injury.
- Unforeseeable complications. The defense may claim that the injury was the result of sudden and unforeseeable complications that could not have been prevented or anticipated, even with the best medical care.
Legal defenses in birth injury cases are often complex and require an understanding of both law and medicine. It is crucial for plaintiffs to consult with knowledgeable attorneys to effectively counter these defenses.
What types of compensation is my child entitled to after a birth injury?
Children who have suffered birth injuries due to medical negligence may be entitled to various types of damages to help support their immediate and long-term needs. These damages can be broadly categorized into economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to the quantifiable financial losses incurred due to an injury, such as:
- Medical expenses. This includes not only immediate medical costs but also long-term care expenses, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and specialized medical equipment.
- Future earnings. If the injury is severe enough to impact the child’s ability to earn an income in the future, compensation for lost future earnings may be awarded.
- Special education costs. If the child requires specialized educational services or technology, these costs may also be factored in.
- Home modifications. In cases where the home needs to be modified to accommodate the child’s needs (such as wheelchair access), these costs can be included.
Non-economic damages are compensation for intangible losses that don’t have a direct monetary value, including:
- Pain and suffering. This aims to compensate for the physical and emotional pain endured by the child due to the injury.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. This is to compensate for limitations on the child’s ability to enjoy and participate in activities and life experiences that they would have otherwise had the opportunity to engage in.
- Emotional distress. Both the child and the parents may receive compensation for the emotional and psychological impact of the injury.
Determining the amount and types of damages a child may be entitled to is a complex process requiring a deep understanding of the law, the medical condition, and the long-term impact of the injury. It’s crucial to consult with experienced attorneys who specialize in birth injury cases to ensure that you secure the compensation needed to provide the best quality of life for your child.
Get help from an experienced Des Moines birth injury attorney
Proving that a health care provider caused a birth injury is a complex and often lengthy process. If you suspect that your child has suffered a birth injury due to medical negligence, contact experienced Des Moines birth injury attorney Laura Brown at Brown Trial Firm.
Laura has dedicated her practice to helping families like yours recover the compensation they deserve to support their children’s current and future needs. Contact her office today for a free consultation to learn more about your legal options.
CDC. (2022, December 21). Products – Data Briefs – Number 456 – December 2022. www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db456.htm
Iowa. (2020, May 19). www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/states/iowa/ia.htm
NVSS – Birth Data. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/births.htm
Preterm Birth Overview. (n.d.). March of Dimes | PeriStats. Retrieved August 31, 2023, from https://www.marchofdimes.org/peristats/state-summaries/iowa?reg=99&stop=60&sreg=19&top=3