According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 4 million babies are born each year. Many of these babies are born healthy and go on to live productive and fruitful lives, thanks to the care of dedicated doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and some babies suffer from birth injuries that may lead to lifelong disability.
Injuries ranging from broken bones to permanent brain damage can result from Caesarean sections or from a failure to act quickly during complicated deliveries. Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Erb's Palsy, a type of brachial plexus palsy, are two muscle and nerve disorders that may be caused by negligence.
In some cases, children are healthy in the womb but suffer injuries or illnesses in the delivery or operating room, or diagnostic errors prior to delivery. CP has no cure and causes problems into adulthood such as shortened life span, chronic pain and lack of mobility. Erb's can cause limb deformity and paralysis that may be permanent.
In addition to birth injuries in the delivery room, mothers must also be wary of drugs that may cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy. An expectant mother taking antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Zoloft or Paxil to deal with depression or other mental issues can end in tragedy. Babies are sometimes born with defects such as heart or breathing problems that can be fatal.
Sometimes babies are injured during their delivery, leaving them with permanent lifelong disability such as cerebral palsy or Erb's Palsy. Parents file lawsuits to hold gain money to pay for life-long treatment.
Reasons for Birth Injury Litigation
Injuries during deliveries can lead to CP or Erb's Palsy. Negligence may include:
Juries in these lawsuits sometimes award millions of dollars in damages to the families of children with CP or Erb's Palsy, since these injuries affect them throughout their lives and can diminish quality of life and make adulthood challenging. Medical bills also build up from the cost of care and treatment.
- Incorrectly using the vacuum and forceps in delivery
- Waiting too long or failing to perform a Caesarian section
- Failing to properly plan a Cesarean when the baby is too big to fit through the birth canal
- Not detecting a prolapsed umbilical cord, a condition where the cord is compressed, preventing blood flow to the baby
- Not detecting infection like meningitis during pregnancy
- Failing to monitor fetal heart rate for signs of distress during labor and birth
Birth Injury Jury Verdicts and Settlements
Baltimore jurors ordered Johns Hopkins to pay $55 million to the parents of Enzo Fielding, who was born with cerebral palsy after he was deprived of oxygen. According to facts released at trial, Enzo's mother, Rebecca Fielding, waited two hours for a C-section after he got stuck in the birth canal. “They said they were waiting for blood tests, and I remember waiting and waiting and waiting and screaming ‘Where are the blood tests?’” Rebecca told CBS Baltimore. “I just couldn’t believe how long it took for me to have my C-section.”
A Staten Island Supreme Court jury awarded more than $100 million to the family of 17-year-old Stephanie Debes. The family's lawsuit claimed St. Vincent's Medical Center failed to prevent the pre-term delivery that causes Stephanie brain injuries resulting in her cerebral palsy. Stephanie's father, Rob, said the hospital failed to listen to his wife. Hospital officials told her to go home and gave her Benadryl when she showed up at the hospital having contractions.
Libbey Bryson won a $13 million jury verdict against Genesys Regional Medical Center after she claimed the hospital's negligence caused her daughter to be born with Erb's Palsy. After several surgeries, her daughter is permanently disfigured and can’t use her right arm fully. Bryson's daughter got stuck in the birth canal during delivery, and instead of performing a Caesarian, doctors yanked the baby through the birth canal, severing the nerves in her right arm.
Birth Defects Caused by Drugs
Birth injuries caused by a delivery aren't the only problems that can affect unborn babies. An expectant mother taking prescription medications can cause serious birth defects. Over the past few decades, pharmaceutical companies have been in the news for hundreds of class-action, criminal and individual birth defect lawsuits. Each case sheds more light on pharmaceutical side effects and pregnancy risks. The most common medications implicated in birth defect lawsuits are:
Women (and their families) won jury verdicts and successfully settled lawsuits against manufacturers of all the aforementioned drugs, including the SSRIs Effexor, Zoloft and Prozac, over a variety of birth defects.
Some of the most significant defects linked to these medications include:
- Antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs)
- Pain relievers (opioids)
- Chemotherapy medications
- Asthma medications
- Acne medications (retinoids)
Other drugs may cause birth injuries rather than defects. These include unapproved, experimental delivery aids such as Cytotec, which promotes labor but can cause birth injuries and brain damage to infants when too much is administered.
In 2015 the FDA will implement a new labeling system that ranks prescription medications according to likelihood of birth defects and injuries. Pharmaceutical companies will be required to provide information about their drugs' effects on lactating and pregnant women. This new system will make it much harder for physicians, pharmacists and drug manufacturers to hide, downplay or fail to recognize risks that cause birth defects. The change is expected to also prevent incorrect and excessive dosages of drugs commonly used during labor, and motivate hospitals to clamp down on delivery procedures.
For families who have watched a baby suffer birth defects or a birth injury, their only resolution may be to file a birth injury lawsuit.
- Cleft lips and palates
- Heart defects
- Genital defects
- Spina bifida (which affects the central nervous system)
- Brain damage
- Abdominal trauma
- Deformed limbs
- Skeletal abnormalities
- Dysmorphic facial features
When a Birth Defect Means Litigation
Insurance companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers typically have the money and resources to pick apart your claim, so if you are seeking justice for your child and reimbursement for your expenses, keep track of every detail. After your lawsuit is filed, the court may commission an independent medical evaluation of your child, which is meant to ensure the accuracy of all medical evidence.
It's helpful to know exactly how much you've spent on health care, and to estimate how much you'll spend in the years ahead. Other costs and burdens may include child care expenses, lost income because of extended hospital stays or child care needs, emotional distress and reimbursement for legal fees. And when birth defects actually result in death, plaintiffs may choose to sue for funeral expenses and emotional trauma. Document all of these expenses, and consult your attorney about the monetary value of intangible damages like pain and suffering. You may be entitled to compensation for the trauma your child endured, and your child may be entitled to assistance so they can lead as normal a life as possible.