Philadelphia Birth Injury Lawyers
When your baby sustains an injury during birth, it is usually a heartbreaking experience. Unless your doctor informs you otherwise, you anticipate welcoming a healthy newborn. You decorate your child’s nursery, buy clothing and toys, and you arrange for their daily care. You imagine your child’s future long before they are born. It is different when you understand, upfront, that your child will have a birth defect or another health issue. When you expect difficulties, you make adjustments and you plan your life accordingly.
If your doctor commits a negligent act during what should be a joyful birthing process, it changes everything. Children who would have lived a normal life sometimes end up with brain damage, nerve damage, and physical disabilities. As parents, you make the necessary life adjustments, but you mourn for yourselves and on behalf of your child. When medical care providers change your family’s future so drastically, you need a Philadelphia birth injury lawyer to help protect your legal rights and make them pay. Contact the Philadelphia birth injury attorneys at the Levin Firm today for a free consultation to see what we can do for you.
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Childbirth is inherently painful, exhausting, and stressful for both mother and child. Expectant parents pay medical professionals to help them deal with problems that sometimes occur along the way. It is a medical professional’s job to relieve a mother and child’s stress and pain. They must monitor the overall labor and delivery process for emerging difficulties.
Unexpected problems occur under the best of circumstances. When medical professionals provide quality care, they manage these unexpected challenges. With proper care, mother and baby usually come through the birthing process without trauma.
When a medical professional commits a negligent act or fails to act properly during an emergency, birth injuries sometimes occur.
- Brain damage: Hemorrhage, cerebral palsy, ischemia, and other brain conditions occur when a baby or mother lacks adequate oxygen during labor or delivery. Physicians also use terms such as anoxia, hypoxia, birth asphyxia, and birth-related oxygen deprivation.
- Dystocia: When a baby’s shoulders become lodged behind the mother’s pelvis during a vaginal delivery, physical injuries sometimes occur. The baby experiences problems such as collarbone fractures, brachial plexus injuries. Mothers sometimes experience ruptures, hemorrhaging, and other problems. Dystocia is rare, but often severe.
- Muscle and tissue injuries: Lacerations, bruises, and other injuries occur due to negligent actions during a C-section or vaginal delivery. While some babies sustain only minor injuries, others endure lifelong medical complications and impairments.
- Kernicterus: Jaundice occurs when newborns have too much bilirubin in their blood. Jaundice is a common condition, but when medical professionals fail to treat it properly, kernicterus sometimes develops. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that kernicterus sometimes causes hearing loss, vision problems, a form of cerebral palsy, and other lifelong problems.
- Infections: When a physician fails to diagnose and treat a mother’s infection, she sometimes passes it on to her baby during delivery. Undiagnosed or untreated hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and other conditions cause eye infections, pneumonia, blood infections, blindness, brain damage, and other serious medical problems.
Birth injuries can occur when an obstetrician commits a negligent act or fails to act to prevent an arising problem. Labor and delivery usually last hours and sometimes days, but medical professionals must remain vigilant throughout the process. Of course, childbirth is inherently challenging. Mothers endure pain and physical distress that sometimes put their babies’ lives in danger.
When an adverse event occurs, the doctor must intervene and prevent the child from permanent harm. If the doctor’s professional behavior fails to meet the appropriate standard of care, he or she could be held responsible for the outcome.
Obstetric-related medical negligence sometimes includes these acts.
- Missed conditions during prenatal care
- Delayed vaginal deliveries
- Delayed or poorly executed C-sections
- Inadequate fetal heartbeat and maternal monitoring
- Failure to monitor anesthesia complications
- Inappropriate assisted deliveries
Rethinking the Idea of Fetal Distress
In recent years, the medical community made a collective decision to use the term “non-reassuring fetal status” instead of fetal distress. It is a general term that replaces an overused and often inaccurate phrase. It shifts the focus to a broader suggestion that a fetus is not doing well for one or more reasons.
The concept of non-reassuring fetal status is important because it directs physicians to focus on issues they sometimes overlook. As an Elsevier PubMed article explains, the term non-reassuring fetal status shifts the focus away from fetal oxygen deprivation. It emphasizes the mother’s cardiovascular disease, anemia, diabetes, or hypertension. It considers all underlying conditions and medical issues that sometimes affect mother and child both before and during labor and delivery.
When a child sustains an injury during birth, it is often due to one or more committed or omitted acts. Medical negligence often begins long before labor and delivery. Inappropriate monitoring sometimes involves overlooked medical issues during prenatal visits. Doctors sometimes miss vital patient medical conditions and risk factors that ultimately jeopardize the fetus’s health. During labor and delivery, medical personnel sometimes fail to use appropriate monitoring and care strategies. During delivery, they may use techniques that they probably should have avoided.
Missed Conditions During Prenatal Care
Problems occur when medical professionals provide low-risk care to a high-risk mother. Women dealing with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, obesity, infections, and advanced-age pregnancies (over age 35) are at higher risk for complications. Doctors must also carefully consider care choices for women with drug, alcohol, smoking, and other habits. Some mothers can only deliver via C-section when their child is large or has a large head.
Medical professionals have technologies and treatments to diagnose and manage adverse patient conditions before and during labor and delivery. They have access to targeted ultrasounds, cell screenings, lab testing, and genetic testing. When medical professionals fail to consider vital patient information and it causes a birth injury, it may be considered a negligent act that can result in liability.
Delayed Vaginal Deliveries
Delayed deliveries occur when medical professionals do not monitor patients appropriately before labor. When pregnancies last too long, the baby often gains too much weight. Excess weight sometimes causes traumas that harm infants during labor and delivery.
Mayo Clinic’s Overdue Pregnancy page explains that pregnancies lasting beyond 40 weeks put babies at risk for several complications.
- Shoulder dystocia: During delivery, an overweight fetus’s shoulders sometimes get stuck and in the mother’s pelvis. This sometimes causes serious shoulder problems and often leads to an unexpected C-section.
- Meconium aspiration: This occurs when a child releases a bowel movement (meconium) into the amniotic fluid during birth. If the child inhales the meconium, it sometimes causes temporary or permanent problems.
- Low amniotic fluid: When a mother does not have enough amniotic fluid, it sometimes causes umbilical cord compression and fetal heart rate issues.
Delayed or Poorly Executed C-Section
In some situations, physicians know ahead of time that a patient will require a C-section. They schedule a date and complete the surgery with minimal complications. In other situations, the original plan calls for vaginal delivery but something changes during labor or delivery. When a baby shows signs of distress such as heart or oxygenation difficulties, physicians must prepare to modify their delivery strategy immediately.
Some physicians cause problems when they perform a timely C-section. As with other surgeries, a physician sometimes injures a patient during the surgery.
Inadequate Fetal Heartbeat and Maternal Monitoring
When a physician is not monitoring the patient closely enough, they can miss cues that the baby is experiencing difficulty.
With access to technological and traditional monitoring methods, doctors should not miss physical signs of fetal distress or a non-reassuring fetal status.
- Cardiography: Some doctors use cardiotocography (CTG) to monitor a baby’s heartbeat during labor or delivery. The technology monitors how the heart responds to the mother’s contractions.
- Intermittent auscultation: This is a less technical method for monitoring a baby during labor. During intermittent auscultation, the physician listens to the baby’s heartbeat and counts the beats during contractions. A doctor must commit to constant interaction when monitoring a patient via intermittent auscultation. Otherwise, it is easy to miss a critical issue.
Failure to Monitor Anesthesia Complications
During labor and delivery, anesthesia poses more than typical complications. Effective anesthesia minimizes labor pains, but it also minimizes a mother’s ability to self-monitor her own distress. Mothers in labor cannot measure whether their pain and discomfort are normal or problematic. When using anesthesia, it is up to the medical professionals to properly monitor a patient for adverse events.
Some researchers have linked anesthesia to increased use of device-assisted deliveries and second-stage labor C-sections. Researchers have also found that neuraxial anesthesia techniques, which block spinal, caudal, and epidural nerves, sometimes slow down or impede a mother’s labor.
Assisted Vaginal Deliveries
Obstetricians use forceps and vacuum devices to perform assisted vaginal deliveries when a mother’s second-stage labor is not proceeding as well as anticipated. These procedures are sometimes risky to the child as doctors rarely use them. Both devices sometimes injure a baby’s head, causing minor or major injuries.
Forceps. Forceps resemble tongs with spoons at the ends. A doctor sometimes uses the device to grasp a child’s head during a difficult vaginal delivery. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that three percent or fewer children undergo forceps-assisted vaginal deliveries. Few doctors have experience using forceps.
When they use them, their lack of experience sometimes leads to birth injuries.
- Facial injuries
- Eye trauma
- Temporary facial weakness
- Skull fractures
- Bleeding within the skull
Vacuum extraction. Doctors conduct vacuum-assisted deliveries more frequently than forceps deliveries. It is a vacuum-powered device that resembles a large suction cup. The medical care provider attaches it to the child’s head during a difficult delivery. The vacuum effect helps guide the baby through the birth canal.
Vacuum-assisted deliveries cause or contribute to several injuries.
- Scalp wounds
- Shoulder dystocia
- Skull fractures
- Bleeding within the skull
Pennsylvania medical negligence cases follow different standards than auto or premises liability claims. The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act authorizes the sole process for parents seeking damages for childbirth injuries. MCARE monitors medical providers. It sets procedures for medical malpractice claims and lawsuits and also establishes additional standards.
For example, it:
- Requires that hospitals establish a safety committee to reduce medical errors.
- Defines what constitutes a serious medical event (patient’s death, compromised safety, unanticipated injury, etc.).
- Sets serious medical event reporting standards and requirements.
- Sets plaintiffs’ subrogation and collateral source rules.
- Establishes an excess coverage fund for high medical negligence claims.
- Establishes punitive damage standards.
Every Plaintiff Must Produce a Certificate of Merit
When patients sustain an injury due to physician negligence, they do not have an automatic right to file a lawsuit. Each plaintiff must meet pre-suit qualification standards established under Pennsylvania Code, Rule 1042.3, Certificate of Merit.
Injured families usually work with a Philadelphia birth injury law firm to obtain a certificate that complies with the standards for an informed consent case or a medical negligence case.
- Informed consent: An “appropriate licensed professional” must certify your allegation that a medical professional “…deviated from an acceptable professional standard…”
- Medical negligence: When allegations involve negligence related to knowledge, care, or skill, a licensed medical professional must verify that an act “fell outside acceptable professional standards….”
Proving Your Case
Once you comply with the MCARE certification standards, your evidence must prove your allegations. Some malpractice insurers settle cases, while others choose to defend their insureds at trial. Courts also recommend malpractice mediation—an Alternative Dispute Resolution option. Mediation provides an informal forum for plaintiffs and defendants to present evidence and review their positions on the issues.
MCARE Section 511 supports the integrity of evidence obtained during the investigation and discovery process. The act prevents medical providers from destroying information. It mandates that they preserve and maintain accurate records. It also prohibits providers from altering records or committing any other adverse interference. These requirements help ensure that when your attorney requests your medical records, they reflect the events as they occurred.
Birth injury cases can be more complicated than other liability claims. Do not try to face a negligent medical professional on your own. A Philadelphia birth injury attorney, like those at the Levin Firm, can investigate your case and analyze the legal issues. An attorney can evaluate your damages and determine if they can help you. Before they pursue legal action on your behalf, they determine whether your case complies with Pennsylvania’s medical negligence standards.
When you schedule a legal consultation, you have an opportunity to talk about what happened. An attorney listens to you and explains your options for recovering damages. Your initial appointment is free. You do not have to make an immediate decision about filing a Philadelphia birth injury lawsuit against your medical care provider.