What to Expect in a Birth Injury Lawsuit
Giving birth doesn’t always go as planned, and sometimes complications occur that can cause injury to the baby or mother. Statistics reveal that for every thousand babies born in the United States, about seven suffer from birth injuries, which translates to approximately one in every 9714 births. Most of the times, the injury is minor and is treated immediately after birth. Sometimes these injuries aren’t immediately recognizable, with symptoms only appearing later, and occasionally birth injuries can result from negligence. A birth injury can result from the actions or inaction not only by obstetricians or midwifes helping in the birth, but also anesthesiologists, nurses, health care facilities, pharmaceutical companies and others involved during labor or delivery. Patience is key to winning any personal injury claim, and this is especially true with cases involving birth injuries. Because of all the potential intricacies in these types of medical malpractice cases, it’s nearly impossible to answer accurately when the parent of an injured infant asks, “How long does a birth injury lawsuit take?”
What is a Birth Injury?
Any physical injuries that occur to a mother or baby during birth are termed as birth injuries. They can result from issues during childbirth, though most occur due to circumstance rather than as the result of carelessness. Causes of birth injury can include the natural pressure and resistance that occurs during childbirth, high birthweight of 9 lbs. (approximately 4 kg) or more, premature birth, positioning of babies during birth (for example breech births or shoulder dystocia), prolonged labor, a mother’s disproportionately small pelvis, maternal medical conditions during birth or lack of oxygen due to difficulties with the umbilical cord.
Types & Causes of Birth Injuries
The types of childbirth injuries that can occur to an infant are many and varied, but below is a list of the ten most common, which can result from or be made worse due to negligence. Brachial plexus birth injuryOften resulting from birth trauma, this injury affects the brachial plexus nerves and occurs in 1-3 of every 1000 births. It can result in loss of muscular function, or even paralysis, in the upper arm. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) A type of brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation due to limited blood flow during labor, HIE is also known as birth asphyxia, neonatal encephalopathy or perinatal asphyxia. Occurring in about 2 out of every 1000 births, it is a common cause of brain injury in newborns, preventing both oxygen and nutrients from reaching a baby’s brain. It can also cause other serious conditions, such as cerebral palsy.
Bone Fractures & Breaks
Usually occurring during a baby’s journey down the birth canal, fractured clavicles due to a breech birth or shoulder dystocia are the most common.CephalohematomaA minor condition resulting from pressure due to bleeding under the skin, visible lumps become apparent when small blood vessels rupture as the baby’s head compresses against the mother’s pelvis during labor, or when forceps or a vacuum assist with the birth.
This refers to the swelling of an infant’s scalp shortly after birth, resulting in lumps or bumps on the head because of pressure during birth. Though harmless, it can lead to other issues like jaundice.
Known as brain bleeds, this condition can range anywhere between insignificant to extremely dangerous. Caused by either oxygen deprivation around the time of birth or birth trauma due to excessive mechanical force applied to a baby’s head, this is a common cause for many medical negligence claims. It can result from misuse of vacuums or forceps during the birthing process, and must be diagnosed promptly to limit damage and ensure correct treatment. Subconjunctival hemorrhage When small blood vessels just beneath the eye rupture, blood will pool under the clear membrane covering the eye, resulting in a bright red spot. This typically happens during a stressful delivery, though tends not to be a serious problem.
Neonatal Spinal Cord Injuries
Though this rarely happens, this complication during birth often results in catastrophic injury to the infant, such as decreased movement or paralysis, lost reflexes, periodic trouble breathing and lack of response to stimulation. It can also lead to long-term respiratory disease, or even death.
Out of every 1000 births, between 1.5-4 children are born with this serious neurological condition, which can result from brain trauma during delivery. Typically occurring during birth when oxygen supply to the brain gets temporarily disrupted, cerebral palsy is one of the most common serious injuries to transpire during birth, and the subject of many medical malpractice claims.
Birth Injuries to Mothers
Women often deal with physical injuries resulting from labor, most which simply result from giving birth. Sometimes, however, these birth injuries are the result of lack of care.
Around 90 percent of women suffer from tears to the perineum as it stretches during birth. These tears to the skin between the vagina and anus are normally minor and heal quickly after birth. Sometimes more serious tears can occur, especially during difficult births, which may require surgery and have long-term effects.
Negative experiences before, during or immediately after childbirth can cause a decline in a woman’s mental health. Signs of post-natal depression include feelings of guilt and isolation, trouble bonding with the infant and avoiding birth-related situations.
Post-Partum Hemorrhage (PPH)
Some blood loss happens for 2-6 weeks after birth, becoming lighter over time. When bleeding becomes abnormally heavy, this can result in a dangerous situation.
When the wall of the uterus tears during pregnancy it creates serious complications. Most often this occurs with women who had previous Caesarean-section births, tearing at the site of the scar.
About half of all mothers experience some type of prolapse, which happens when pelvic organs bulge into the vagina. This condition normally follows a difficult birth, or as the result of a particularly large baby. Though not life-threatening, it can cause painful sex or urinary incontinence.
Any birth injury can result from medical malpractice. Most times these injuries are minor and incidental, but occasionally they result in more serious, and potentially life-threatening, medical conditions and injuries to either mother or child. This can happen due to a plethora of issues, including lack of monitoring by healthcare facilities and their staff, use of tools like forceps or vacuums used during birth, exposure to toxins during pregnancy or even mis-prescribed medications that cause complications during labor.
How Long Does a Birth Injury Lawsuit Take to Settle?
For the injured party, finding an experienced birth injury lawyer to act on their behalf is the first step. The injured party seeking compensation is typically either the parents of an injured child or the mother (in cases where she is the injured party), though it could be the father or a child’s guardian in cases where the mother and/or child has died. In rare cases when a birth injury only presents later in life, the injured child could file suit. Once it has been established that a particular claim has validity, a detailed demand letter is sent laying out the damages. Negotiations can then begin between legal teams from the injured party and those responsible for the injury to come to an agreement that resulting in a monetary settlement. This can take several weeks or months, though sometimes longer when the seriousness of an injury hasn’t yet been determined. If no agreement can be reached, however, the case proceeds to trial.
The Claim Process
Each case is different, though lawsuits follow the same basic steps.
Building a Case
If defendants reject the demand letter, or if one is not sent, the plaintiff’s lawyer builds a case. The plaintiff’s lawyer will seek evidence of:
- How the birth injury could have been prevented.
- Where, when and how the injury occurred.
- Who should be held responsible for the injury.
- These basic facts help determine the strength of the claim.
Filing a Lawsuit
Once the case has been built, the injured party’s lawyer files a claim in the appropriate court of law. Once a lawsuit is filed, the injured party and its representatives become the plaintiffs. Healthcare providers and others involved in causing the injury then become defendants. The court processes the lawsuit and sends a notice to the defendants, who must respond in a specified number of days, otherwise they automatically lose the case.
During this phase of the trial, additional evidence to support a medical malpractice claim is gathered to make the argument as strong as possible when it goes to court, seeking to prove that the medical professionals involved failed to maintain a high level of care. The plaintiff’s lawyers gather additional evidence, including:
- Depositions from the medical personnel involved.
- Hospital bills and other medical expenses.
- Medical documents that describe the birth injuries.
- Any other related evidence.
- In a similar fashion, the defendant’s lawyers collect evidence disputing these claims.
Negotiating a Settlement
Prior to going to trial, both sides will normally meet to discuss a potential settlement, which will resolve the dispute by providing the plaintiff with sufficient financial compensation. If a settlement occurs, the defendants pay a lump sum to the plaintiffs, resulting in the halt of legal action. Settlements truncate the time it takes to reach a conclusion, meaning the plaintiffs will receive compensation sooner. If no settlement can be reached the case goes to trial.
During the trial, both legal teams present arguments before a judge and jury, who then decide the case. If the plaintiff’s lawyer can convince the jury, an award is made. If not, no money is awarded.
In some cases, the losing side can appeal a decision. This results in a higher court reviewing the case at a later date. The trial and appeals process can add months or even years to the case, resulting in delayed compensation.
How Long Does a Birth Injury Lawsuit Take to Resolve?
Every case is different, so calculating how long a birth injury lawsuit takes from start to finish can be difficult to estimate. Depending on the complexity of the case, it can last for anywhere from several months to several years. Frequently when an infant is injured during childbirth, the injuries are not immediately apparent. It may take years to learn the full extent of injuries resulting from childbirth.
Statute of Limitations
Just as with any lawsuit, there is a statute of limitations, which sets limits on how long after an injury a lawsuit can be filed. The statute of limitation varies from state to state, but in New York it is two-and-a-half years for personal injury cases, and two years for infant wrongful death cases. There are exceptions to this, however, including an extension of the deadline if the birth injury was undiscovered until after the statute of limitations passed. Other caveats may include situations where the plaintiff is disabled, mentally ill or a minor. The best thing to do is contact a reputable lawyer experienced in birth injury cases from the state in which the injury occurred.
How Laufer Law Can Help
Many times birth injuries result in permanent disability and require long-term treatment. The Laufer Law Group protects the rights of mothers and their children, always seeking the maximum possible compensation. Along with the physical implications of a birth injury, our firm understands the emotional and financial implications as well. Through either negotiation or trial, Laufer Law can help families to:
- Cover urgent and continuing medical expenditures, including medication and surgery.
- Install assistive equipment or devices to support injured party at home.
- Pay for therapies that increase strength and mobility.
- Provide compensation for lost work due to injury.
- Recover damages for emotional distress.
Families dealing with birth injuries that are determined preventable and caused by negligence or deliberate actions have a right to pursue monetary compensation not only for their financial losses, but for pain and suffering as well. Additionally, legal action can help rid the field of subpar medical personnel or change the policies and procedures of healthcare institutions who cause birth injuries.
Contact the Laufer Law Group for the expertise and empathy your case deserves.
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