Last Updated on March 7, 2024

A Parent's Guide to Birth Injuries and Medical Malpractice

Research finds that the quality of maternal systems varies greatly in different U.S. locales. This inconsistency makes the U.S. the country with the most maternal and newborn deaths among high-resource countries. With roughly 98.4% of American women opting to give birth in hospitals, improvements in subpar medical facilities should be made to ensure the safety of mothers and newborn children.

Birthing injuries also result from these inconsistencies, affecting about 120,000 children yearly. Long-term consequences such as brain damage, nerve damage, or hearing impairment are among the most severe. These result in developmental delays for a child, not only physically but socially as well. With the help of birth injury lawyers, medical compensation can be sought – helping families get immediate and sustained care for injured children (compensation figures provided below).

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Understanding Birth Injuries

Despite the sophistication of modern medical technology, certain risks are still associated with childbirth. Guidelines for birthing procedures are made to mitigate preventable errors.

Labor and Delivery Guidelines

Healthcare providers have rigorous assessments for each step involved in childbirth (labor, delivery, postpartum). These ensure that doctors act accordingly during the most crucial parts of the birthing process. By acting too quickly or too late, doctors endanger both mother and child. These systematic evaluations allow your medical team to support and care for you as needed.

Standard prenatal care and tests also exist to ensure that mothers and children are healthy before childbirth. It is your doctor’s responsibility to prescribe diest, tests, and check-ups accordingly.

Understanding Preventable Errors

Except for injuries stemming from genetic disorders and pre-existing maternal complications, most (if not all) birth injuries are preventable. Medical malpractices during prenatal care, labor, delivery, and even postpartum care pose complications for a child’s health. In more severe cases, these errors affect the child outside of their infancy – hampering their development as an individual. These life-altering mistakes (whether through inaction or incorrect action) warrant further legal action. 

Common Birth Injuries – Causes, Early Symptoms, and Treatments

Birth injuries are not solely caused by human errors. Inadequate systems within healthcare facilities also greatly contribute to medical malpractice. Improper training, outdated protocols, and mishandled staff schedules – are only some of the systematic errors that contribute to malpractice. Both medical facilities and providers can be held accountable for birthing errors.

Here are some common mistakes that lead to birth injuries:

  • Improper use of delivery tools 
  • Negligence in maternal care
  • Negligence in prenatal care
  • Failure to recognize fetal distress
  • Failure to order necessary tests
  • Monitoring and delivery issues 
  • Prolonged labor
  • Umbilical cord problems

Here are some injuries caused by these mistakes:

ExplanationRecovery and Treatment
Cerebral palsy- This is brain damage due to oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery.

- It usually follows hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), which is a condition wherein brain neurons are damaged.

- It causes intellectual and physical developmental delays.
While this condition does not worsen over time, there is no cure for it currently.

Early and sustained treatments exist to improve motor and speech abilities. Orthotic devices and some surgery may also be required in some cases.
Erb's palsy- These are nerve injuries in the neck/shoulder area caused by excessive pulling or stretching during delivery

- C5 and C6 nerves are damaged.

- It can cause loss of sensation and paralysis of the arm/s.
In some cases, this condition can be resolved in 3 to 4 months – with exercises starting as early as the child’s 3rd week.

More severe cases see lasting deformities and paralysis – which can be rectified by surgeries.
Klumpke's palsy- These are also nerve injuries in the neck/shoulder area caused by excessive pulling or stretching during delivery

- C8 and T1 nerves are damaged.

- It can cause paralysis of the forearm and hand muscles, as well as chronic pains.
Milder forms can resolved in 6 months, with gentle massages and physical therapy starting right after diagnosis.

More severe cases can last through the entire formative years or a lifetime. Surgery helps alleviate its effects.
Bone fractures- The most common is a fractured collarbone during difficult deliveries.

- Can cause permanent damage and chronic pains if mismanaged and healed improperly. 
Minor cases can be treated with splints. Severe cases, however, would need surgical intervention/s.
Facial paralysisForceps or vacuum-assisted deliveries can damage facial nerves resulting in facial muscle paralysis.Non-surgical treatment (physical therapy and medication) remains to be the safer route.

However, surgery may be required for more severe cases.
Hearing lossMisusing vacuum extraction can cause bleeding into the baby's inner ear, resulting in mild to moderate permanent hearing loss.In cases where the inner ear was not damaged, medication and surgery will work.

However, there is no known treatment for damaged inner ear/s. Hearing devices can aid challenged children. 
less severe injuries
Cephalohematoma A collection of blood under the scalp. It causes swelling and bruising but typically resolves on its own.Can heal naturally after several weeks or months. Make sure to go through all prescribed check-ups.
Caput succedaneumSwelling on the newborn's head caused by the pressure of the birth canal. It usually clears up within a few days.Can heal naturally after a few days. Rarely needs medical intervention.
Forceps marksBruises or temporary marks on the newborn's head or face from forceps used during delivery.Can completely heal and disappear within a couple of weeks on their own.
Subconjunctival hemorrhage Burst blood vessels under the eye.Can take up to 3 weeks to completely heal. Doctors may prescribe eye drops to alleviate your child’s discomfort.

Birth injuries are sometimes very treatable. However, negligence from your doctor can still result in life-altering complications or even death. Experienced birth injury lawyers can assist you in seeking legal compensation for such unfortunate events.

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Seeking Compensation for Sustained Treatment

While mild birth injuries are generally treatable through immediate rehabilitation, more severe cases would require sustained and coordinated treatments. These treatments are necessary for fostering the development of an injured child – all of which can be accounted for when seeking medical compensation.

In a report published in 2004, the average lifetime medical expense for individuals with severe birth injuries are as follows:

  • $1,014,000 for persons with mental retardation
  • $921,000 for persons with cerebral palsy
  • $417,000 for persons with hearing loss
  • $566,000 for persons with vision impairment

After two decades, it is safe to assume that actual lifetime costs for these conditions are significantly higher today*.

*look at our results page for more recent figures.

Early and Long-Term Treatment

Starting treatments early mitigates any developmental delays in motor skills and cognitive functions. Sustaining these treatments is necessary to ensure the best developmental trajectory for your child:

Physical therapy - Useful for treating brachial plexus injuries, facial paralysis, bone fractures, spinal cord injuries, and nerve damage. Helps regain strength, movement, and function.
Occupational therapy - Helps children relearn everyday tasks and skills like dressing, feeding, writing, etc. – especially if there are impending permanent disabilities from birth injuries.
Speech therapy - For conditions like brain injuries, cerebral palsy, and facial paralysis that affect oral motor control and speech.
Orthotic devices - Equipment like splints, braces, and custom shoes are required for improved function.
Medications - Drugs to control chronic pain, muscle spasms, or seizures caused by nerve/brain damage.
Multiple surgeries - To treat residual defects of bone fractures or nerve/muscle damage for facial paralysis and limb deformities.
Psychological counseling – For individuals who seek to cope with trauma, disability, loss of function.

Accounting for Proper Compensation

All families that have been subjected to birthing malpractices deserve accountability and proper compensation. However, keep in mind that specific legal steps are needed before getting compensated – and that takes time. We advise that you document all medical and rehabilitative costs incurred from the birthing injury. This would also help your legal team project all future expenses brought by your doctor’s negligence.

Apart from medical and rehabilitative expenses, you can also take the following into account:

  • Loss of Earnings – Applicable for parents who need to forego their careers to properly support their injured children.
  • Pain and Suffering – Families with injured children are shrouded in stress, even when treatments are going well. Outside of medical well-being, other facets of a family’s life can also be considered in court.

Again, all past and future expenses should be accounted for when seeking legal compensation. Working with seasoned birth injury lawyers would allow your family to get proper compensation.

Support for Birth Injuries in New York

Many institutions in New York offer support for children suffering from birth injuries. Here’s a list of supports available in New York for various stages of your journey:

  1. Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State: Provides medical, educational, recreational, and social services. Camps & adult day programs are also done for social growth. Assistive equipment and home accessibility grants are extended to some.
  1. NYS Department of Health Early Intervention Program: Fully covers the cost of evaluations for infants/toddlers with apparent delays. Provides speech, occupational, physical & vision therapies at no out-of-pocket costs. They can also refer you to other institutions that could help your child.
  1. Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern New York: Education on managing seizures stemming from birth trauma is provided for parents. They also foster social connections through summer camps. They have education plans for afflicted children. (for Metropolitan New York)
  1. Family Support Services - Offers social work counseling, coordination of healthcare services, and assistive technology for children with disabilities.
  1. NYS Association of Infant Mental Health - Promotes access to therapeutic and behavioral health services for infants and families dealing with the trauma of birth injuries.
  1. Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities - Delivers healthcare, rehabilitation, education, and transitional life planning for children with disabilities.
  1. NYS School for the Deaf - Offers expansive K-12 educational services for hearing-impaired students with the option for boarding.
  1. The Center for Discovery - Specialized residential schools and therapies for severely disabled children unable to remain home.

Pursuing Further Legal Action

There are several key elements needed to establish a medical malpractice claim. The first thing your lawyer would determine if your complaint would fall within the New York Statute of Limitationsa rule that determines the validity of a claim based on a reasonable timeframe.

Establishing Your Claim

After checking your limitations, you and your legal team would dive into the initial investigation. At this point, your lawyer will assist you in gathering all documents relevant to your case. Only pieces of evidence legally requested by your is usable in court.

Here are the key elements you’ll unearth during the initial investigation:

Duty of CareIs there an appropriate doctor-patient relationship?
Breach of DutyWhat actions/inactions of your doctor were below standard?
Injury/HarmDoes the victim have a medically diagnosed condition?
CausationDid your doctor’s incompetence directly cause the injury?
DamagesWhat did the complications cost you (medically, financially, emotionally)?

Filing Your Case

If your legal team is keen on pursuing legal action after the initial investigation, here are some general steps your lawyer/s will take:

  1. Notifying the Defendant – An “Intent to Sue” is sent to the defendant. This expresses your plans to pursue legal action against them and allows them to make necessary legal arrangements. As a fair warning, the law requires this to be done.
  1. Filling the Complaint – Your lawyer drafts and files the initial complaint to the respective court. This details the alleged medical malpractice, the damages you incurred, and the compensation being sought. 
  1. Serving the Defendant – After officially filing the claim, it is your party's responsibility to send an authorized copy of the complaint to the defendant. This includes the official summons provided by the court.
  1. Discovery Stage – At this point, your team exchanges all information with the defendant’s team, and another round of investigation begins. At this point, both teams begin to deliberate whether they’ll opt for a settlement or push for court trails.

While this looks like a daunting process, it might be good to note that around 90% of medical malpractice claims end in out-of-court settlements. To ensure that the process goes smoothly, make sure that you work with skilled and seasoned lawyers.

Safeguard Your Child from Medical Malpractice

At the Porter Law Group, our experienced medical malpractice lawyers have track records of providing favorable results. We do our best to safeguard your family’s best interest while you recuperate. We operate on a contingency basis – meaning you don’t have to pay anything unless we win.

If your child has been a victim of medical malpractice, please reach out to us for a no-obligation, free case consultation. You may also contact us a at 833-PORTER9 or info@porterlawteam.com to schedule an appointment.

Written By
Michael S. Porter
Personal Injury Attorney
Originally from Upstate New York, Mike built a distinguished legal career after graduating from Harvard University and earning his juris doctor degree from Syracuse University College of Law. He served as a Captain in the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, gaining expertise in trial work, and is now a respected trial attorney known for securing multiple million-dollar results for his clients while actively participating in legal organizations across Upstate NY.
Legally Reviewed on March 6, 2024
Eric C. Nordby
Personal Injury Attorney
Eric, with nearly three decades of experience in personal injury litigation, holds a law degree with honors from the University at Buffalo School of Law and a Bachelor's Degree from Cornell University. His extensive career encompasses diverse state and federal cases, resulting in substantial client recoveries, and he actively engages in legal associations while frequently lecturing on legal topics.
This Article Was Professionally Reviewed
This page was Legally Reviewed by Eric C. Nordby on March 6, 2024. Our experts verify everything you read to make sure it's up to date. For information on our content creation and review process read our editorial guidelines. If you notice an error or have any questions about our content please contact us.
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