Birth Injuries Resulting in Death

The death of a child, especially an infant, under any circumstance is tragic. However, when that death was preventable, the injustice stings beyond belief. Actions, or non-actions, that result in injury may have legal consequences, but how can a bereaved parent know if this line has actually been crossed or who to hold accountable?

What is a Birth Injury?

Some injuries and accidents are unavoidable. Bruising, swelling, forceps scars and even some bone fractures are too often a consequence of simply being born. When such injuries are not serious, the baby often heals quickly, usually within weeks. However, some injuries are more severe and may be the result of improper care. Using forceps the wrong way or depriving the baby of oxygen can cause trauma to the brain. The wrong anesthesia or medications, physical mishandling or medical mistakes during or near the time of birth can result in paralysis, sensory impairment and even death.

By general definition, any damage done to an infant before, during or soon after birth is classified as a birth injury. Medical conditions that arise during a pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, can be considered a birth injury. Another example may be conditions that are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and not effectively treated by a physician, thus resulting in harm to the unborn child. These situations are taken into account when determining accountability for negligent acts, which resulted in injury.

On average, seven babies out of a thousand births suffer birth injuries. The types of injuries and corresponding injuries may differ depending on the circumstances. Some example cases may include the following:

A bad medical exam failed to recognize that a laboring mother's womb had ruptured, severely compromising the unborn child, causing injury to the mother and resulting in the baby's death two days later.

An obstetrician recognized that the mother's birth canal was constricting delivery and chose to employ metal forceps to engage the infant's head rather than proceed to a cesarean section. Massive cranial fractures resulted and the infant died shortly after delivery.

When those attending a birth failed to notice clear signs of fetal distress, cerebral palsy, which affects more than 5,000 children a year in the United States, resulted from the brain damage caused by hypoxic oxygen deprivation.

What Can a Parent Do?

As difficult as it may be for grieving parents to consider, it is critical to determine as quickly as possible whether an infant's injury or death resulted from preventable causes. For one thing, every state has a statute of limitations, which sets a deadline on how long a person has to file this type of lawsuit. In Washington state, the statute of limitations is three years; the clock starts ticking the moment that one suspects an injury has occurred. Generally speaking, if it can be demonstrated that the death of a newborn resulted from negligence the responsible person can and should be held legally accountable.

Therefore, when a parent believes that the life of his or her child has been wrongfully taken from them because someone who should have known better failed to correct a dangerous situation, it is crucial to act. Washington laws provide specific rights and protections to infants who suffer trauma (such as traumatic brain injury), injury or death due to the circumstances surrounding birth. These laws also give legal rights to the parents of injured infants.

Please consult with an attorney in your area to learn more about applicable laws that may protect you and your child. An attorney can also help you determine if the death of your child is legally actionable by completing a comprehensive review of your child's medical and birth records, answering any questions you may have and helping you determine the best course of action based on the circumstances.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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