Giving birth to a child is one of the most rewarding experiences of an adult’s life, but too often we are unaware of the risks that are still involved. Although childbirth now is far safer than it has been at any time in history, there can still be a risk of injury to the baby, and even death under unfortunate circumstances.
When a child is injured during birth, the parents may have grounds for legal action. However, the road to a lawsuit or medical malpractice claim can be incredibly complicated when it comes to dishing out blame for a birth injury.
Defining a Birth Injury
It’s important to discern a difference between birth injuries and birth defects.
A birth injury occurs due to a complication during the birth and delivery process. It generally happens due to two scenarios:
- A failure by medical professionals to properly assess and respond to any adverse conditions
- Any injuries or disorders contracted due to negligent or improper prenatal care
Birth injuries can range from minor scrapes and bruises to more serious health conditions such as cerebral palsy or brain damage due to lack of oxygen.
A birth defect is harm that arose prior to birth, caused by something that happened during or before a mother’s pregnancy. Hereditary conditions, excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, and incorrectly prescribed drugs can cause defects in babies.
What Can Cause Birth Injuries
Because babies are so delicate, birth injuries can occur due to a number of different reasons.
- Due to their size, larger babies may have a more difficult time squeezing through the birth canal – sometimes resulting in injuries.
- Premature babies require more delicate measures and more attention; a negligent doctor may not pay attention to these measures.
- Prolonged labor can deprive the baby of precious oxygen, which can result in catastrophic brain damage.
- Improper use of tools such as forceps and suction devices can severely harm the baby.
Who Can Be Liable for Birth Injuries?
When a birth injury occurs, liability can be a tricky topic. Accidents do happen, even when negligence is not involved, and unforeseen complications can arise, even if medical professionals had the competence and skills. Discerning between cases of legitimate negligence and honest accidents where no malice was intended can be a difficult thing to sort out.
Ultimately, what really matters is the “duty of care” upheld by the medical professionals taking care of the patient and their child. If it can be proven that the doctors, nurses, and assistants were knowingly conducting care below a generally accepted standard, there is a strong case for medical malpractice.
The hospital can be held liable as well, if the health care providers in question are directly employed by the medical facility. They can be found responsible for:
- Understaffing of the facility, especially if a lack of properly trained nurses and professionals indirectly led to the baby’s injury.
- Corporate negligence – a failure to properly make inquiries about their staff, and vouch for their qualifications.
- Vicarious liability – a doctrine in which an employer may be held liable for the negligence of its employees.
In some cases, pharmaceutical companies can also be held liable as well. If a drug resulted in injuries to the child, and the company failed to warn physicians of the drug’s potential side effects, they may share the blame with the hospital. However, in most cases physicians are considered “learned intermediaries,” where they should have the medical knowledge to know the best course of medication and drugs to administer. Therefore, the medical professionals should have the primary duty of responsibility to the patient’s health.
Ultimately, liability in a child birth injury can be an extremely sensitive topic that requires lots of emotional anguish, complex paperwork, and a deft hand in proving without a doubt that the hospital provided a subpar standard of care. The best course of action may be to consult an attorney who specializes in these cases, as they have the knowledge and experience to deal with even the most sensitive cases.