Even under the best of circumstances, childbirth can be a difficult and dangerous process for both mother and child. Some injuries are unavoidable, but many childbirth injuries could and should have been prevented.
When care providers breach their duty to their patients with a negligent act or omission and cause a birth injury, the resulting problems can potentially last for a lifetime. The medical costs can be overwhelming, as can the physical and emotional trauma. The child may require ongoing treatment, specialized equipment, and therapeutic counseling — and may also have a significantly reduced earning capacity as a result of their birth injury.
Pennsylvania has many top-quality hospitals, but even the best facilities are capable of mistakes, and hundreds of avoidable birth injuries occur in the commonwealth every year.
Who Can Be Held Responsible?
Under Pennsylvania law, almost anyone that played a negligent role in causing a birth injury can be held liable for their behavior, including:
- Prenatal doctors
- Any professionals present at the birth
- Postpartum Caregivers
- Medical equipment manufacturers
- Pharmaceutical companies
All caregivers are required by Pennsylvania law to meet the accepted standard of care. The easiest way to understand the standard of care is to ask: Would a competent healthcare provider faced with the same circumstance have made this error? If the answer is no, the standard of care has not been met and negligence has likely occurred.
Hospitals also have a duty to their patients and can be held vicariously liable (i.e. responsible for the actions of another party) for birth injuries if they:
- Do not properly vet their employees
- Allow their facilities to go understaffed
- Fail to supervise their staff
- Turn away patients who should have been admitted
Furthermore, hospitals aren’t just responsible for the actions of their direct employees but also any personnel working in their facility that a patient would reasonably believe is an employee, such as independent contractors and other outside agents of the hospital.
Modern childbirth, like virtually all major medical procedures, requires a host of advanced technologies to ensure the safety of mother and child. The maker of any medical device used before, during, or after the birth that is found to be defective — either in its functioning or because of a failure to adequately warn of a danger — and thus contributed to a birth injury can also be held liable for their negligence.
The same is true of pharmaceutical manufacturers. They have a duty to provide safe and effective treatments and adequate notification of any potential dangers or side effects that could negatively impact the mother or child.
There are numerous injuries that occur when caregivers fail to meet the standard of care required to safely bring a child into the world.
Some of the most common include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Erb’s palsy (brachial plexus palsy)
- Brain bleeds and/or brain swelling
- Bruising and lacerations from forceps
- Facial nerve damage and/or facial paralysis
- Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE, cell damage from lack of oxygen to the brain)
- Bone injuries and/or fractures
- Cranial and/or spinal cord injuries
- Infant hematoma (blood collecting between the skull and scalp)
- Injuries from vacuum birth
- Intra-abdominal injuries
- Newborn jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Premature preterm rupture of membranes (PPROM)
- Shoulder dystocia
- Spinal birth defects
- Twin to twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS, one twin gets insufficient access to placental blood)
- Umbilical cord strangulation
Erb’s palsy is a sadly common birth injury that involves nerve damage to the baby’s arms resulting from a caregiver pulling too hard during delivery. The injury can impair the use of the motor functions of the affected limb and hand for the rest of the child’s life.
HIE, where the brain is damaged by lack of oxygen, can cause cerebral palsy (a permanent disorder that affects the movement and posture of the entire body). It sometimes occurs because an OBGYN waited too long before performing an emergency cesarean section (C-section) despite obvious signs of fetal distress — or elected not to perform one at all when they should have.
Shoulder dystocia is an injury to the child’s shoulders as they pass through the mother’s pelvic bones. Particularly with larger children, the passageway may be too narrow and a caregiver that pulls too hard or refuses to perform a C-section can seriously injure the child and even break its clavicle.
Childbirth is also a precarious time for the mother. An incorrectly performed C-section can result in a loss of future child bearing capacity, such as when a physician fails to locate and stop a source of blood loss.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for medical malpractice cases requires filing a claim within two years of the event that caused the injury (or within two years of when the injured party reasonably should have become aware of it).
However, regardless of when the patient reasonably should have become aware of the alleged error, no medical malpractice claim can be filed in Pennsylvania more than seven years from the date of the original injurious event — with one exception: cases where a foreign object was left inside a patient.
A child or mother that is injured by negligence during childbirth may be entitled to compensatory damages for a variety of things, including:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Loss of lifetime earning capacity
- Pain and suffering (both physical and emotional)
- Permanent or temporary disfigurement or disability
Get The Help You Need to Recover From a Birth Injury
As much as 30-40% of birth injuries in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are caused by negligence and medical errors, but receiving compensation for an avoidable harm suffered at the hands of a healthcare provider is a complex and daunting undertaking.
Pond Lehocky Giordano has an extensive team of skilled and compassionate medical malpractice attorneys that is experienced in collecting the medical evidence and expert testimony needed to get the justice that injured mothers and children deserve.