While the medical field has made enormous strides in improving the safety and survival rate in child birth, injuries can and do occur. This article focuses on some of the injuries that can occur to the baby during the labour and delivery process.
What we deal with most often in the medical malpractice field with respect to birth injuries are brain-related injuries. Most often, these injuries are a result of oxygen deprivation to the fetus during or right after the labour and/or delivery, termed birth asphyxia or perinatal asphyxia. The proper medical term for this oxygen deprivation is Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE).
HIE can occur at varying levels of severity, with mild HIE being more likely to resolve within the first day of the child’s life and with more severe forms of HIE resulting in permanent neurological injury, diagnosis of cerebral palsy and even death. The severity of the injury is dependent on the severity and length of time of the oxygen deprivation and success of resuscitation measures following delivery.
Brain injuries can also occur as a result of direct physical trauma to the infant’s brain, maternal or infant infection or infant stroke.
It is vital for physicians and healthcare professionals working in labour and delivery to closely monitor both the mother and baby to ensure that there is no fetal distress. Where there are indications of fetal distress, there are medical guidelines as to the intrauterine resuscitation measures that should be taken. Unless fetal well-being can be confirmed such that the medical professionals are satisfied that there is no longer indication of fetal distress, an emergency C-section will be required and it is essential that the appropriate steps are taken to obtain informed consent from the mother and have both an operative team and resuscitation team ready.
Generally speaking, physical or muscle-related injuries are more readily and easily diagnosed. Some physical injuries that occur during birth, such as lacerations, fractures or bruising are obvious and can be either a result of negligence on the part of the medical provider(s) or may simply be an unfortunate outcome that would not have been avoided with proper care.
Other common physical injuries that we see occurring during birth include:
- Shoulder Dystocia: Shoulder dystocia can occur when the infant’s shoulder becomes lodged against the mother’s pelvic bone during delivery. It is diagnosed when the shoulders fail to deliver shortly after the head and is associated with significant risk of: collarbone fracture; oxygen deprivation potentially through compression of the umbilical cord or brachial palsy.
- Brachial Palsy: Brachial palsy – injury to the nerve group in the arms and hands (the brachial plexus) – is common when there is difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder through the birth canal. Where the injury is limited to bruising and swelling around the nerves, the baby will likely regain movement however more severe injury can result in permanent nerve damage and permanent disability. Erb’s Palsy is a type of brachial plexus where nerves in the upper arm are affected. Klumpke’s Palsy is the form of brachial plexus where the damage is to the nerves in the lower part of the arm, affecting the wrist, hand and fingers.
Unfortunately, there are a number of ways in which a medical error during labour, delivery or neonatal (newborn) resuscitation can have a devastating impact on the health of the infant. Common areas of negligence that result in birth-related injuries include:
- Failing to recognize and respond to signs of fetal or maternal distress;
- Failing to properly monitor the fetal heart rate;
- Failing to recognize and respond to changes in fetal heart rate;
- Failing to recognize or respond to signs of fetal or maternal infection;
- Failing to administer proper intrauterine resuscitation measures;
- Failing to proceed to or perform a C-section on a timely basis;
- Improper use of tools such as forceps or vacuum to assist with delivery; and
- Failing to ensure proper resuscitative efforts are undertaken.
If your child has been diagnosed with a life-long condition such as Cerebral Palsy or Erb’s Palsy, you know the devastating impact this has and the lifetime of support your child will need. If you suspect that the condition is a result of birth injury due to negligence on the part of the physicians or medical providers involved, it is extremely important that you seek legal advice from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer to determine what options you may have. At Cuming & Gillespie, we will listen to your story and if a medical malpractice lawsuit appears viable, we will retain medical experts in order to fully investigate whether the medical professionals involved fell below the required standard of care and whether their negligence caused your child’s injuries. [Insert contact us link]
Cuming & Gillespie lawyers have, in the past year, resolved two significant birth injury claims and in doing so, have secured millions of dollars for the children affected and their families. While the funds will never make right what happened to these families, it will allow them to ensure that their children have access to necessary medical care, support and aids over their lifetime. We are proud to have been trusted by these families to handle their claims and will continue to provide legal advice and representation to those who have suffered devastating, and most importantly, preventable injuries during birth.