The birth of your baby is a momentous occasion. When a baby is born with severe injuries, however, it can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. You may suspect that something went wrong, but you may feel uncertain. Memories can be fuzzy. No one really explained what happened. We understand.
The good news is you already know a lot of the facts that will help us investigate your unique situation. Many times, your recollections of what happened during your prenatal care, labor, and delivery alone will be enough to inform our experienced birth injury attorneys whether your baby’s injuries might warrant further investigation.
Our experienced attorneys will be able to help you obtain the medical records needed to evaluate your situation, and then review them to determine whether you may have a claim. The most common types of birth injuries are injuries caused by hypoxia or anoxia (too little oxygen) during labor and delivery, and injuries caused by mechanical forces or instruments during delivery, such as forceps or a vacuum.
Cerebral palsy is the main result of hypoxia or anoxia during delivery. Often, however, cerebral palsy cannot be diagnosed right away, and instead, a diagnosis is not made until your baby is 18-24 months of age.
Prior to this, babies who go on to develop cerebral palsy may first be diagnosed with HIE, or Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy. HIE symptoms include slow heart rate, poor muscle tone, seizures / epilepsy, weak breathing, neurodevelopmental delays, organ dysfunction, and others. HIE is injury to the brain caused by a lack of oxygen that lasts longer than a newborn can tolerate. This is sometimes also called intrapartum asphyxia.
Cerebral Palsy is characterized by poor motor control, muscular floppiness or rigidity, muscle contractures, muscle spasms, slow or hyperactive reflexes, and sometimes partial paralysis. Children may have learning disabilities, speech delays, slow growth, constipation, spastic gait, hearing loss, and other symptoms.
Children with anoxic brain injury typically require lifelong care and treatment.
Kernicterus is a preventable injury with devastating results including cerebral palsy, spasticity and movement disorders, delays in development and growth, hearing loss, impairment of the ability to gaze upwards, dental problems, and even death.
There is no cure once kernicterus develops, but preventing it is not difficult, and usually requires only ultraviolet lights to lower bilirubin levels (called “phototherapy”), which is done while monitoring the baby’s bilirubin levels with a simple blood test. In more serious cases or when the bilirubin level is especially high and needs to be brought under control faster, more invasive treatments, such as exchange transfusion, may be used to prevent kernicterus.
Signs of high bilirubin, which can lead to kernicterus if untreated, include yellow skin or eyes, called jaundice. It is important to know, however, that the level of bilirubin cannot be accurately estimated by the degree of yellow discoloration of a baby’s skin or eyes, so a blood test is always required to know what the levels really are. If bilirubin stays too high for too long, additional signs and symptoms can develop such as lethargy, poor feeding, fever, an unusually high-pitched cry, changes in muscle tone, and in some cases, a characteristic type of posturing called opisthotonus.
When bilirubin levels get high enough, it can cross the blood-brain barrier and actually stain the baby’s brain yellow. Those who survive this severe illness go on to develop athetoid cerebral palsy as a result.
Erb’s Palsy, also called Erb-Duchenne palsy, is a paralysis of the arm caused by stretch injury to the nerve bundle that feeds the arm. This injury usually arises after a difficult labor in which a baby may get stuck during delivery by it shoulder, a condition called shoulder dystocia. If shoulder dystocia occurs, and the doctor puts too much traction on the baby’s head to pull the baby out, or applies pressure at the top of the uterus to push the baby out, this nerve bundle can be stretched too far, resulting in injuries to the nerve roots where they originate at the spinal cord.
Babies with Erb’s palsy may require a range of treatments and therapies including physical and occupational therapy, nerve and tendon transfer surgeries, and other modalities. In cases where nerve roots have been partially or fully torn from the spinal cord, the damage may be irreparable.
Children with this injury may require lifelong care and therapy to simply maintain a level of use of their affected arm, and often symptoms increase with age and as muscle imbalances and contractures occur and are exacerbated by the growth process.
Babies may be injured in other ways at birth, as well. Mismanagement of medications, like Pitocin, to augment labor can result in hard to mother and baby. Errors in use of instruments during delivery, such as a vacuum or forceps, may cause injuries as well, as can mismanagement of a new baby’s airway and breathing after birth. If your baby was injured at or near the time of delivery, you have a right to understand how. We may be able to help.
Determining the potential value of your baby’s birth injury case is an important part of the work we do in representing you. Value in this context is not a personal judgment of you or your child, but rather, a judgment of what damages are able to be recovered for your family, based on a number of factors.
Each state has its own rules about how much money a plaintiff injured by medical malpractice can recover for their injuries. Some states do not place limits on damages, and others do. Some state with limits on damages limit only certain kinds of damages and not others. What this means is that the value of your claim in Texas or New Mexico might be vastly different from the value of the exact same claim in Minnesota, Illinois, or Maryland.
Here are just a few of the factors that impact the value of medical malpractice claims: