Many times a birth injury has little to do with the doctor or nurse in attendance during the birth, but other times a lack of necessary action, choosing the wrong action (or other decisions made by a medical professional which would not be made by another medical professional given the same circumstances), is responsible for birth injuries. While some birth injuries will require a medical malpractice lawsuit, others may qualify for the Virginia Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Program. This program was the first of its kind in the nation with the goal of keeping many of the most expensive cases out of the court system. Physicians, nurses, midwives, hospitals, and others pay into the Program rather than paying for medical malpractice insurance. It appears that the Program has had a positive effect on claims costs and subsequent malpractice premiums. (No state funds are involved in providing services to claimants). Parents of a child injured at birth must file a petition to enter the Program. If approved, the parents will submit regular claims for costs related to the child’s care. When the costs are allowed, regular payments are made to the parents. It is important that you speak to your birth injury attorney regarding your potential eligibility for the Program.
What are the Three Primary Types of Birth Injuries, and How Do These Injuries Occur?There are three primary types of birth injuries:
- Cerebral Palsy—One birth injury which causes damage to muscle tone, movement, and motor skills is cerebral palsy. Brain damage, occurring during birth, can lead to cerebral palsy, which is a relatively common congenital disorder. Parents of a child who has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy will spend huge amounts of time and money on therapy, special equipment, and treatments. Depending on the level of damage, a child with cerebral palsy could have trouble breathing and eating and can have issues with bladder and bowel control. A difficult birth in which medical professionals acted negligently or failed to act in a timely manner can result in cerebral palsy. Causes of cerebral palsy which could indicate medical negligence include the following:
- Once it becomes clear there are problems with the birth, a doctor who neglects to order a C-section in a timely manner could be considered negligent.
- When vacuum devices or forceps are used to forcefully during a difficult birth, the baby could suffer serious harm.
- When a doctor or other medical professional fails to recognize changes in the baby’s heart rate or anything else unusual on the fetal heart monitor, the baby could suffer a birth injury.
- A physician who fails to recognize a baby is in the breech position, therefore, fails to correctly plan for the birth, could be guilty of negligence.
- If the mother had an infection that was not diagnosed—therefore, not treated—the baby could suffer harm as a result.
- Erb’s Palsy--Erb’s palsy is a form of brachial plexus palsy; the brachial plexus is a network of nerves in the neck area that provides movement and feeling to the fingers, hands, and arms. When the upper nerves are affected, the result is Erb’s palsy. Erb’s palsy is most likely to occur in deliveries with a long labor, a very large baby, or a breech presentation. Total paralysis of the arm or a loss of feeling or weakness in the arm are symptoms of Erb’s palsy. When negligence on the part of a medical professional occurs, resulting in Erb’s palsy, this negligence could be the basis for a medical malpractice claim.
- Nerve damage to the neck, arms, or shoulders—or even damage to the baby’s skull—can occur when forceps or a vacuum device is used improperly.
- In some cases, the baby’s shoulder can be wedged against the pelvic bone of the mother, increasing the potential for a difficult delivery. Doctors who deliver babies should be able to avoid shoulder dystocia during the birth if they have the requisite skills
- Erb’s palsy can result any time there is a complicated delivery, and excessive force is used.
- About three percent of all births are breech births, with a foot first presentation, rather than a head-first presentation. Ultrasounds can inform medical professionals about the potential for a breech birth. If a breech birth is likely, preparations for a C-section should have been made to avoid any harm or birth injuries to the baby.
- Brachial Palsy—The Brachial Plexus nerves provide electrical impulses to the arm muscles. A diagnosis of Brachial Palsy means the baby suffered an injury to the Brachial nerves; the severity of the birth injury will depend on whether the injury was a total tear, a partial tear, or a stretch—as well as where the injury occurred. Medical negligence can be responsible for Brachial palsy under certain circumstances, including:
- During a difficult birth, the pelvic bone of the mother can stop the baby’s shoulder from coming through the birth canal. It is important that the delivery doctor is very familiar with the techniques involved in avoiding the lodging of the baby’s shoulder—and that he or she knows what to do should the issue arise.
- Nerve damage can occur during a difficult birth when forceps or other tools are used to that place excessive pressure on the baby’s shoulders and head.
- Nerve damage to the neck and shoulders of the baby can also occur when a vacuum device is used in an improper manner.