Pregnancy and childbirth can involve severe medical conditions. People put their trust in obstetricians—doctors who deliver babies—as well as nurses and other healthcare professionals to ensure that the mother and infant are safe when a child is born. When a medical professional makes a critical error, the mother or the child can suffer severe consequences, resulting in injuries and illnesses, deaths, and permanent disabilities. The knowledgeable lawyers at Salango Law have dedicated their practice to advocating for victims of personal injuries in West Virginia—including birth injuries. If you or your child sustained an injury associated with childbirth, consider reaching out to a Salango Law birth injury lawyer to learn more about how a personal injury lawyer can assist you. Call 304-342-0512 for a free consultation.
Birth injuries occur during the birthing process, harming the infant or mother. Although birth injuries can happen without fault, in some cases, birth injuries occur because a healthcare professional made a mistake. In that case, affected individuals may bring a claim against those responsible and recover compensation.
Birth Injuries To Infants
Birth injuries can affect mothers and children, and many birth injury cases involve harm to infants. Common birth injuries include:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Brain damage
- Cerebral palsy—movement and posture difficulties, which can include cognitive disability and seizures
- Erb’s palsy or brachial plexus palsy—hand, arm, or shoulder paralysis
- Newborn cephalohematoma—bleeding in the skull that pools around the brain
- Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy—lack of oxygen or blood flow during birth, in some cases causing seizures, feeding difficulties, and hearing or vision loss
- Newborn jaundice—rare cases can lead to permanent brain damage
- Kernicterus—a condition that results from severe jaundice, which, without treatment, can cause seizures, hearing loss, brain damage
- Vacuum extraction complications, in which doctors use vacuum extractors to guide the baby through the birth canal—complications can result in brain bleeding, shoulder damage, and skull fractures.
- Infant chorioamnionitis—an infection of the placenta and umbilical cord resulting in premature birth and brain damage
- Group B strep—an infection transferred from the mother to the child, which can cause seizures and meningitis
- Meconium aspiration syndrome—complications that arise when a baby inhales fecal material
Birth Injuries To Infants
Birth injuries also harm mothers and can encompass:
- Cesarean injuries—complications arising from cesarean section surgery, including blood clots, endometritis, and surgical site infections
- Perineal tears and episiotomy—a tear or surgical incision near the vagina
- Hemorrhoids—swollen veins
- Nerve damage, causing numbness, incontinence, difficulty walking, and paralysis
- Muscle damage to the pelvic floor
- Uterine inversions that can result in severe bleeding and death
- Prolapsed pelvic organs, in which pelvic organs such as the uterus are pushed out of the body
When complications arise in childbirth, the obstetrician may recommend a forceps delivery—a type of assisted vaginal delivery. Problems that lead to forceps deliveries include:
- The mother is pushing, but the baby is not moving
- There is an issue with the infant’s heartbeat
- The mother has a health condition
When doctors perform forceps deliveries, they administer forceps—large instruments with broad pincers—to babies’ heads, leading them through the birth canal. The Mayo Clinic states that doctors should only do forceps deliveries in hospitals in which cesarean deliveries—delivering a child by surgically entering through a woman’s abdomen—are available, as forceps deliveries carry significant risks.
Risks Associated With Forceps Deliveries
Physicians who elect to perform forceps deliveries should be aware of the risks and know how to mitigate them. Risks of forceps deliveries include harm to the mother and harm to the child. Injuries to the mother include:
- Pain after delivery
- Lower genital tract tears
- Difficulties with going to the bathroom
- Fecal incontinence, which can be short-term or long-term
- Bladder injuries
- Urethra injuries
- Uterine tears
- Pelvic organ prolapse, which is a weakening of pelvic organs
Forceps deliveries also pose risks to infants, including:
- Facial injuries
- Temporary facial weakness
- Eye injuries
- Skull fractures
- Bleeding inside the skull
West Virginia Birth Injury Claims
A birth injury victim may recover compensation for the harm medical professionals caused. Victims seek compensation by alleging that a healthcare professional, such as the obstetrician responsible for the birth, caused an injury through medical negligence or medical malpractice. Whether a medical professional committed medical negligence or medical malpractice depends on how much the professional knew when they made a mistake.
Healthcare professionals commit negligence when they breach their duty of care to patients causing injuries. Negligence is the foundation of medical malpractice claims. The four elements of negligence are:
- Duty—doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals owe their patients a duty of care
- Breach—a medical professional breaches the duty of care when making severe mistakes that a reasonably prudent professional would not have made
- Harm—A harm occurs when a patient sustains a physical injury
- Causation—To be liable for negligence, a healthcare professional’s actions must have caused harm
In West Virginia, malpractice refers to instances where professionals, such as doctors, commit negligence. The four elements of negligence comprise a medical malpractice claim. Birth injury victims may bring medical malpractice claims against individual healthcare professionals and hospitals.
Medical Malpractice Example
Let’s examine how a doctor could cause a birth injury, committing medical malpractice. Wendy is a patient of Dr. Smith, the obstetrician that delivers her baby. At the birth, Dr. Smith chooses to use forceps to pull the baby through the birth canal, despite no complications with the pregnancy. A reasonably prudent doctor would not have performed a forceps delivery. During the delivery, the baby sustains a skull fracture. Dr. Smith has committed medical malpractice.
- First, Dr. Smith had a duty of care to Wendy because Wendy was Dr. Smith’s patient, and Dr. Smith delivered the baby.
- Second, Dr. Smith breathed her duty of care to the baby and Wendy by using forceps even though it was not medically necessary or advisable. A reasonably prudent physician would not have performed a forceps delivery.
- Third, the baby sustained an injury—specifically, a skull fracture.
- Fourth, Dr. Smith caused the baby’s skull fracture by using forceps to deliver the baby.
Compensation Available For Birth Injuries
In West Virginia, birth injury victims can receive compensation for their injuries if they prove a physician was negligent in court or a medical professional agrees to settle the case outside of court. Types of damages available to birth injury victims brining birth injury lawsuits in West Virginia include economic damages and non-economic damages.
Economic damages compensate victims for the financial costs of injuries, such as medical expenses and lost income. In contrast to non-economic damages, economic damages are easier to calculate and more predictable, as people can determine how much money victims lost because of injuries, adding together each separate cost. In West Virginia, there is no statutory cap on economic damages. There is no limit to the amount of compensation that birth injury victims can receive. They are entitled to full compensation for all the reasonable financial losses associated with their injuries.
Non-economic damages cover the negative outcomes associated with birth injuries, which are more difficult to calculate. These injuries include emotional distress and pain and suffering. However, in contrast to economic damages, West Virginia imposes a cap on the number of non-economic damages victims may recover in medical malpractice cases. This cap is adjusted yearly to account for inflation.
Time Limits For Bringing A Birth Injury Lawsuit
West Virginia law sets the time limit within which individuals must bring medical malpractice claims. The statute of limitations refers to the time individuals have the right to file claims in a state court. In West Virginia, the law provides a two-year statute of limitations for medical practice. If you miss the deadline and try to bring your claim outside of this time frame, you forfeit your right to bring a claim and recover compensation for your injuries. To bring medical malpractice claims for birth injuries, individuals have two years following:
- The date of the birth injury, or
- The date they realized a birth injury occurred.
Statute Of Limitations Example
Suppose an infant sustains a birth injury on June 20, 2022, and the parents know about the injury when it happens. In that case, they have until June 20, 2024, to bring a medical malpractice claim against the medical professional responsible for the injury.
Now suppose a baby gets a birth injury on June 20, 2022, but the parents do not become aware of the birth injury until August 10, 2022. In that case, they have until August 10, 2024, to bring a medical malpractice claim against those responsible for the birth injury.
West Virginia Birth Injury Lawyers
Many types of injuries can occur to a mother and child during childbirth. Physicians must exercise care when treating pregnant women and delivering babies. Because doctors make mistakes, fail to be careful, or act recklessly, victims can recover compensation for any resulting injuries. If you suspect a doctor made a mistake during the birth of your child, contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. At Salango Law, an experienced birth injury attorney can help you with your case and help you recover compensation for your injuries. Call Salango Law birth injury attorneys at 304-342-0512 to learn more.