Parenthood often results in a wonderful, lifelong journey that builds strong family bonds and lasting memories. Although raising a child can be difficult at times, it is well worth the challenge to see them grow up to be a strong, hardworking, and caring member of society. However, in some cases, circumstances outside of our control can cause unexpected family life complications.
In particular, birth injuries impact countless families across the United States. Although not all birth injuries are entirely preventable, many occur due to the careless or negligent acts of healthcare providers. From cerebral palsy to facial paralysis, many birth injuries could have potentially been avoided through prompt and effective medical intervention. In this article, we discuss some of the more common forms of Pennsylvania birth injuries and who may be held legally liable for their occurrence, if at all.
Cerebral palsy may impact a child’s muscle tone, movement, or balance. When the part of the brain that controls a person’s muscles is damaged around the time of birth or fails to properly develop, cerebral palsy may occur. This condition ranges in severity, with some victims suffering mild issues with balance and others being entirely unable to walk. Although some cases of cerebral palsy are present before a child is born, others occur due complications during the birth. Potential issues may include:
- Uterine rupture
- Problems with the umbilical cord
- Detachment of the placenta
When these conditions are not accurately diagnosed and treated by a medical practitioner, they may cause lasting harm.
Erb’s palsy is a condition that impacts the brachial plexus. The brachial plexus is the nerve network responsible for carrying signals from the spinal cord down a person’s arm and to their hand. An injury to this nerve may negatively affect the communication between an infant’s brain and the muscles in their arm. The effects of this condition may range from weakness in the arm to paralysis.
Although injuries to the brachial plexus may occur later in life (as a stinger sustained in a sporting event, for example), Erb’s palsy frequently occurs during childbirth. Excessive force during the delivery process may cause damage to the still-fragile nerve channel, which can lead to paralysis of the hand or arm. Treatments for Erb’s palsy depend on the severity of the infant’s condition and include:
- Physical therapy (for infants at least three years of age)
- Hydrotherapy exercises
- Stretching exercises
Infant Brain Injury
Although infant brain damage is (thankfully) a fairly rare occurrence, these injuries do occur and may cause lifelong complications. Infant brain damage is frequently caused by asphyxiation, or a dangerous lack of oxygen. Babies born prematurely are at particular risk of oxygen deprivation during the birthing process, but any child can be affected. Some of the leading causes of asphyxiation include:
- Umbilical cord complications
- Low oxygen in the mother’s blood
- An infection
- Placental abruption
- Anemia in the mother
- A malformed or blocked airway
When the brain does not receive a sufficient amount of oxygen due to any of these conditions, even for a relatively short time, the health consequences can be significant. A lack of oxygen may lead to seizures, cerebral palsy, or other associated medical conditions.
When a baby is impacted by the mother’s pelvic bones during vaginal delivery, a condition called shoulder dystocia may occur. If the baby is trapped in the birth canal for too long, a dangerous lack of oxygen can occur. The awkward positioning can also increase the risk of Erb’s palsy. Although shoulder dystocia is not preventable, it should be accurately diagnosed at an early stage before the condition puts the mother or child at risk.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Birth Injury in Pennsylvania?
When a preventable birth injury occurs due to the negligent or careless acts of a doctor, surgeon, OBGYN, or nurse, it may be possible to pursue a medical malpractice case against the negligent institution or practitioner. In Pennsylvania, the evidence must clearly demonstrate that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for the child or mother’s injuries.
If you suspect that a loved one was harmed as the result of medical negligence, it is essential to contact an experienced injury attorney that is familiar with your state’s laws. They will be able to perform a full investigation of the incident, which may include:
- Interviewing eyewitnesses
- Consulting with medical experts
- Analyzing medical files and records
If the investigation proves that the hospital, birthing center, or individual practitioner did not meet the proper standards of care, they may be liable for the victim’s damages. Damages may include the cost of the baby or mother’s injuries, ongoing and future medical expenses, and wages for lost working time. In severe cases, punitive damages may also be assessed.
Seeking Justice for a Birth Injury
Realizing that your child has experienced a birth injury can be a terrifying and traumatic experience. Although there may not be much that you can do personally to medically intervene on your child’s behalf, you may be able to hold the practitioner responsible for their wounds accountable. Speak to a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as you suspect that negligence played a role in your family’s birth injury incident.