After 40 weeks of anticipation, all you want to see is your healthy, happy new arrival. Most of the time, that’s exactly what happens. Unfortunately, not every baby is perfectly healthy.
It can be heartbreaking, confusing, and terrifying to learn that your baby is sick. Most of all, you just want to know that your new little one is going to be ok. There may be tests and scans, doctor’s visits, therapy appointments, and more. Your first priority will be getting your new baby healthy.
After the original shock, you’ll probably have questions. How did this happen?
Understanding The Difference Between Birth Injuries And Birth Defects
New babies can suffer from two different types of medical problems: birth injuries and birth defects.
Birth injuries happen during or just after delivery. There are many different types of birth injuries, from nerve damage and broken bones to brain damage and meconium aspiration syndrome. In some cases, birth injuries are unavoidable. For example, babies born in the breech position can have brachial plexus injuries caused by raising their arms over their head during delivery. In other cases, birth injuries are caused by the actions of your doctors and other medical care providers. For example, your doctor may use forceps improperly and cause damage to the baby’s cranial nerve.
Birth defects happen as the baby develops in the womb. Birth defects may affect the development of any part of the baby’s body, but the most serious usually affect the nervous system. Birth defects are often caused by genetic mutations, but that’s not the only possible explanation. Toxins or medications that make it to the baby through the mother’s body can also cause birth defects.
In either case, a third party may have caused the damage. When a third party’s actions hurt your child, you and your child may be entitled to compensation for your losses.
When The Law Finds Doctors Responsible
When doctors take you and your child on as patients, they accept a legal “duty of care” to you both. That means they’re required to treat you according to the accepted standard of care. If they fail to meet this standard, that’s a breach of their duty of care and they can be held legally liable for any damage they cause.
Doctors may cause birth injuries by failing to monitor the mother and child for signs of distress, inflicting physical trauma during delivery, prescribing dangerous medications to the mother, and otherwise failing to protect the child from harm.
During pregnancy, the doctor will monitor both mother and child for proper development and for any problems that arise. If your doctor fails to diagnose a dangerous infection, it can damage the baby’s brain. If your doctor fails to diagnose a nutrient deficiency, it can cause the baby to develop improperly. There are a variety of routine tests that should be performed on mothers and children during prenatal visits and a failure to promptly find and address any issues can cause your child to develop a birth defect.
During delivery, the doctor will monitor mother and child for signs of distress. The baby usually gets distressed because of oxygen deprivation, which is often caused by maternal distress. A distressed fetus is at risk for expelling meconium and developing meconium aspiration syndrome. The oxygen deprivation can cause irreparable brain damage.
The fetus will be briefly deprived of oxygen during the passage through the birth canal. For a few moments, that’s harmless. If the child gets stuck, the oxygen deprivation can become dangerous. The doctor is responsible for getting the child out in a timely manner to avoid the brain damage associated with oxygen deprivation.
At the same time, pulling a baby through the birth canal with too much force can cause physical trauma, including injuries to the brachial plexus nerves, cranial nerves, and spinal cord. It can also cause broken bones.
For these and other acts of negligence, your doctor may be liable for the injuries your child suffered.
When The Law Finds Pharmaceutical Companies Responsible
When we think of babies with birth defects or injuries, we often think of lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. However, certain drugs may cause birth defects. If your child’s birth defect is linked to use of a certain medication, the pharmaceutical company may be legally responsible for the damage.
Some drugs are “teratogens.” A teratogen is a drug that causes birth defects when taken by pregnant women. Drugs that are approved for use by pregnant women are tested to ensure that they are not teratogens. Drugs that are not specifically approved for use by pregnant women, on the other hand, may be teratogenic. Testing whether a certain drug is teratogenic is always expensive and may not even be possible.
Pharmaceutical companies would rather skip approval for pregnant women than go to the expense of that testing. That means many medications on the market may be teratogens. Pharmaceutical companies have a duty to warn doctors and patients about potential side effects of the drugs they sell. Unfortunately, not every company gives full and clear warnings. Worse, some actually market their untested drugs for use in pregnant women. They give pamphlets and presentations explaining the benefits of the drug to doctors, who then prescribe it to pregnant women. Prescribing a drug for a use that hasn’t been approved by the FDA is called “off-label” use. It’s legal but it can be dangerous – the drugs aren’t proven to be unsafe but they’re also not proven to be safe.
When pharmaceutical companies market drugs for off-label uses and those off-label uses hurt people, the pharmaceutical companies are legally liable for the injuries. The same holds true for off-label medication use that causes birth defects.
No amount of money can undo the harm you and your child suffer due to a birth injury or birth defect. However, medical care is expensive. If the damage is severe, your child may need a lifetime of care. You can pursue compensation to ease the burden of those expenses and make sure your little one gets needed care.
For more information about birth injury lawsuits, click here.