During infant delivery, both mother and child naturally experience a level of distress. However, some childbirth injuries can be prevented if medical providers perform carefully and up to standard. If a baby gets injured due to too much force applied during delivery, it is called birth trauma (BT) or a traumatic birth injury, and it can be grounds for a medical malpractice claim. The challenge is establishing that the injury is due to someone’s negligence.
What makes a birth trauma injury, and how do you prove it’s caused by medical negligence? Here is an overview.
What is Birth Trauma? Definition and Causes
Birth trauma is an umbrella term for infant injuries caused by excessive or improper physical force used during delivery. Physical force includes not just applying direct pressure, but also actions like:
- Using tools such as forceps, clamps, or vacuum extractor
- Managing the abnormal presentation of a baby (e.g. breech presentation)
- Administering delivery drugs like Cytotec and Pitocin (drugs that can trigger intense contractions)
- Deciding on vaginal delivery when a C-section delivery is needed.
Doctors are supposed to be trained in best practices to avoid birth trauma when handling labor and delivery. Sadly, many childbirth professionals fail to uphold medical standards and end up unnecessarily injuring the infant. When this happens, parents may file a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of their injured baby.
What are the Different Types of Birth Trauma?
When traumatic birth occurs, the baby can suffer serious or long-term physical injuries affecting their brain, limbs, tissues, or organs. Many of these result in irreversible disabilities. Here are some infant injuries that fall under birth trauma:
- Brain injuries – Excessive pressure can cause various injuries to the brain such as cerebral hemorrhage (brain bleed), hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), and even hydrocephalus (the buildup of liquid in the brain).
- Cerebral palsy – This brain disorder affects a person’s muscle development, movements, and reflexes. One of the causes of cerebral palsy is the lack of oxygen to the brain due to birth injury.
- Spinal cord injuries – When a baby is improperly pulled, stretched, or rotated, it can damage the spinal cord and result in paralysis.
- Shoulder dystocia – Also called brachial plexus injury or Erb’s palsy, this occurs when the baby’s shoulders are stretched or compressed, damaging the network of nerves that allow movement of the shoulders, arms, and hands.
- Facial paralysis – The baby’s facial nerves can be injured due to pressure during birth, especially when forceps are used. Mild facial paralysis may heal in a few weeks, but other cases involve torn nerves requiring surgery.
- Bone fractures – An infant’s bones are very fragile. Bones that are particularly prone to birth fractures include the clavicle (collarbone) and the skull.
When to Sue for a Traumatic Birth Injury
The tricky part about birth injuries is that they don’t always show symptoms right away. When you start noticing signs that your baby has been injured, it’s best to speak with an attorney as soon as you can. An experienced birth injury lawyer can assess your case, usually with the help of a physician, and advise you on your legal options. Enlisting a lawyer early on can help minimize the loss of evidence and witness recollection.
You and your attorney may be able to pursue a successful medical malpractice lawsuit if you can prove these elements:
- That the birth doctor had a duty to abide by the standard of health care for the service they provided
- That the doctor failed to uphold this standard of care during the birth
- That the doctor’s failure caused injury to your baby.
How Long Can You Wait After Birth Injury to Sue?
Every state has a “statute of limitations” which is a law setting a time limit to file a lawsuit. In Illinois, the general statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date of the incident. However, there are some exceptions for birth injuries:
- Illinois law extends the statute of the limitations if the medical malpractice patient was under 18. For infant birth injuries, the general time limit to sue is eight years from the date of the incident. However, the parents or the patient can no longer sue for birth injury malpractice once the patient is past 22 years old.
- If your child suffers a disability due to the birth injury, the statute of limitations starts only when the disability has ended.
- If a person suffers brain injury due to malpractice, they may bring a case at any point in their lifetime.
- The time limit is also paused if a medical provider purposefully concealed the medical malpractice. The statute of limitations begins to run only when the patient’s injury is discovered.
Though eight years seems to be ample time to file a lawsuit, many claimants have lost their opportunity due to numerous delays in their case. It’s wise to consult a lawyer soon after the birth injury occurs, at least to know your rights and determine your next steps in getting compensated.
Call an Experienced Birth Trauma Attorney
With all the stress you endure following childbirth, you don’t want to waste your time and energy with an inexperienced malpractice lawyer. Count on Willens & Baez, a highly trusted personal injury firm in Chicago that has over 25 years of experience. We have won millions of dollars for Illinois families who have suffered due to negligent birth doctors and medical providers.
Consult with Willens & Baez. We have locations in Chicago and Rolling Meadows. Call (312) 957-4166 today.