Do You Need a Birth Injury Lawyer? (2024)

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.

Editor

Read in 4 mins

Each year, over 3.6 million babies are born in the United States. Most of these deliveries go smoothly, but there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Obstetricians, nurses and other delivery team members must respond quickly and appropriately to complications that arise. Mistakes or medical negligence can lead to birth injuries, forever changing the lives of both mother and child.

When Do You Need a Birth Injury Attorney?

When doctors and hospitals cause birth injuries, parents may be able to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit to seek justice and compensation. Babies who suffer birth injuries may need rehabilitative care, physical therapy, speech therapy and other types of specialized medical treatment for months, years or life.

These may not be covered by health insurance or require families to exhaust their yearly deductibles and out-of-pocket minimums. Families without health insurance face even more difficulty affording specialized care. Babies with permanent impairments may need lifelong medical treatment, qualified caregivers and modifications to ensure they thrive in their home environments.

Birth injury lawsuit settlements or jury verdicts help many families ensure they have sufficient resources to provide the best possible care for their children throughout their lifetimes. By holding healthcare providers accountable, parents can also help improve the quality of care for future patients.

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What Causes Birth Injuries?

Even with the best medical care, labor and delivery can be dangerous for both a mother and child. Some injuries may be impossible to prevent. However, others occur due to negligence or mistakes by the medical care team.

Situations that increase the risks of birth injuries include:

  • Delayed birth. Pregnancy lasts an average of 40 weeks. An overdue or delayed birth increases the chances an infant will suffer oxygen deprivation or other injuries during labor (usually because the baby grows to be over the average birth weight). A woman's care team will often induce labor if a pregnancy continues past 41 weeks.
  • Prolonged labor. Labor lasts an average of 12 to 24 hours for a first birth and 8 to 10 hours for subsequent births. In about 8 percent of all births, labor progression stalls in the first stages. Failure to progress increases the chances of the baby suffering nerve or muscle damage or a lack of oxygen (risking irreversible brain damage).
  • Improper use of medical tools. Although the use of tools like vacuum extractors and forceps to assist delivery is less frequent than in the past, sometimes they are necessary to help move the infant through the birth canal. Improper use of these tools can cause severe, sometimes permanent, injuries like cuts, bruising and brain bleeding.
  • Failure to monitor. Failure to carefully monitor fetal and maternal vital signs during labor and delivery is the basis of many birth injury claims. The delivery team should watch closely for signs of medical issues or distress during labor and respond quickly to prevent or mitigate injury.
  • Oxygen deprivation. An infant can suffer oxygen deprivation if something restricts the flow of blood through the umbilical cord or the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. Without enough oxygen, the infant's brain cells and vital tissues quickly begin to die.

Doctors, nurses and other members of a woman's care team must act appropriately to identify and respond to situations that increase the risk of birth injuries. They must also take appropriate steps to observe and respond to complications. Failing to meet the applicable standard of care and take appropriate action may constitute medical malpractice if it results in birth injuries.

Common Types of Birth Injuries

Oxygen deprivation, brain bleeds, swelling or pressure on the brain can cause brain damage. Nerve injuries can occur as the infant twists and turns through the birth canal. Bone injuries can result from doctors using too much force to assist the child's progression.

Birth injuries range in severity and permanence. While many minor injuries resolve on their own or with minimal intervention, others require lifelong specialized care. Common birth injuries include:

  • Bell's palsy
  • Erb's palsy
  • Laryngeal nerve injury
  • Neonatal seizures
  • Brachial plexus injuries
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Fractured collarbones

Cerebral palsy, a group of neurological conditions affecting movement and posture, is also commonly linked to brain injuries at birth. However, its symptoms may not be apparent until years afterward.

Filing a Birth Injury Lawsuit

State laws establish "statutes of limitations" limiting how long parents have to file a medical malpractice lawsuit on behalf of their child. In most cases, the time limit begins to run on the date the injury occurred or when parents knew or reasonably should have known of their child's injuries. Many states also give children injured as minors a window of opportunity to file a claim on their own behalf once they turn eighteen.

Medical malpractice lawsuits have specific procedural requirements. An experienced birth injury malpractice lawyer can help you understand whether you may have a claim for medical malpractice, protect your rights and hold your childbirth team accountable. They can help you determine the time limits that apply to your case and how to pursue compensation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Valuing a birth injury case involves evaluating your child's current and future needs. Parents may be able to recover compensation for a child's current and future medical bills, loss of earning capacity and many other economic damages. You may also be entitled to compensation for pain, suffering, and emotional distress, although many states have "caps" that limit these "non-economic" damages.

  • Many local and state bar associations maintain lists of attorneys and their practice areas. You can also ask for recommendations from friends, family or healthcare professionals. Once you've shortlisted a few potential candidates, read online reviews and ratings to gauge each attorney's reputation and experience. Most offer free consultations to discuss your case and assess their suitability in terms of expertise, communication and fees.

  • Birth injury lawyers usually offer contingency fee agreements, meaning they only get paid if they recover compensation for you. Their share typically ranges from 25% to 40%, depending on the complexity of the case, the stage at which it is resolved and local laws or ethical rules governing attorney fee agreements. Some lawyers charge separately for expenses like court fees, expert witness fees and other litigation costs.

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