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Meconium Aspiration Birth Injury Lawsuits

Our lawyers handle birth injury meconium aspiration lawsuits in all 50 states.  On this page, our meconium aspiration lawyers look at the mistake doctors make in these cases that lead to birth injury lawsuits and we delve into potential settlement amounts and jury payouts in these claims when  meconium aspiration is misdiagnosed and mismanaged.

Meconium aspiration is when a newborn inhales amniotic fluid and meconium (the baby’s first poop) before, during, or after childbirth. Most typically, it is when the baby poops in the womb before child birth. Meconium aspiration usually does not injure the newborn.  But when poorly treated, meconium aspiration syndrome can cause brain damage.

What is Meconium?

Meconium is the odorless, greenish-colored bile-stained contents of the fetal bowel intestine that are passed before childbirth. Meconium develops in the fetal bowel between the 10th and 16th weeks of gestation.  Meconium emission usually occurs for the first time within the first day of life. Complications can raise when meconium is released early into the amniotic fluid.

Meconium is a risk factor not for the fetus, but the newborn. What it indicates is that you better take special care when that baby is born to make certain there is no aspiration of meconium. This means the baby takes a breath and inhales meconium into its airways.

There are two main issues with meconium that lead to birth injury medical malpractice lawsuits: (1) meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) and, (2) failure to appreciate the increased risk to the baby that comes with meconium exposure.

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Meconium is present in approximately 12-16% of live births, with the risk of meconium aspiration syndrome affecting a small percentage of those cases. About 10% of the time when meconium is present in the amniotic fluid, meconium gets into the baby’s lungs causing respiration failure leading to meconium aspiration syndrome. More technically, MAS is meconium below the vocal cords in the baby’s tracheal bronchial tree. It is respiratory failure due to having meconium in the chest, airway, and lungs.

When a newborn breathes in too much meconium that is in the amniotic fluid, it enters the infant’s lungs. Meconium can be toxic and can also obstruct the child’s airway or overinflate the lungs.

So, brutally for the baby, this is both a chemical and an obstruction of breathing problem for the newborn. The result can be immediate or slightly delayed respiratory distress.

Why Meconium Is So Dangerous

Lack of oxygen for a newborn can lead to damage to all of the baby’s vital organs, including the brain. So once inhaled into the lungs, meconium can be very dangerous for a newborn baby.

First, the meconium can physically obstruct the baby’s air pathways or overinflate the lungs. This can make it very difficult for the baby to breathe normally and get enough oxygen. If doctors are not able to restore the supply of oxygen quickly enough, the baby can suffer permanent brain damage.  Again, the most common injury that you see in birth injury cases involving meconium is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

If there is meconium in amniotic fluid (MSAF) before delivery, the obstetrician should consider the possibility of aspiration (MAS) and monitor the baby closely. Obstetricians and midwives can be found liable for not intervening when there is fetal distress and preventing the meconium aspiration. Early identification and intervention of meconium aspiration are essential in preventing severe aspiration problems.

Meconium as a Marker for Fetal Distress

A baby that is born vigorous at birth with spontaneous respiration is very unlikely to every aspirate meconium. But meconium fluid, particularly thick, dark liquid, is a harbinger of possible coming fetal distress even without. Meconium is a marker for anemia, sepsis, or a fetal neurological injury.

Too many OBs and pediatricians fail to put up their antenna after finding thick meconium in the amniotic fluid because often meconium does not come with complications. With the stakes as high as they are with the neonate and newborn’s brain, increased risk has to be met with increased diligence.

Meconium aspiration sneaks up on doctors because two of the leading causes of concern — low Apgar scores or high or low cord blood gasses — are not always helpful in determining the status of the fetus when meconium is involved. Because they reflect the condition of the baby at delivery. So the health care providers are lured into a false sense of security if they are not diligent.

Risks Factors for Meconium Exposure

The obstetrical risk factors for meconium exposure are a fetus that is over 40 weeks in gestational age of the fetus and an abnormal fetal heart rate during the labor.

A distressed baby is a big risk factor. Late decelerations in the heart rate are of particular concern as are decreased fetal movement, hemorrhage on the part of the mother, or low Apgar scores.

Other factors that increase the risk of MAS include high blood pressure and diabetes in the pregnant mother.

Treatment and Management of Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Proper medical care for meconium aspiration syndrome is a multi-layered process that involves reducing the risk of MAS through careful monitoring, promptly diagnosing and treating MAS after birth to restore oxygen, and diligent neonatal monitoring and care.

Meconium may be present in the amniotic fluid as much as 20% of the time. MAS occurs when the deeply inhales amniotic fluid containing meconium. Deep inhalation of meconium in the amniotic fluid generally occurs when a baby is under duress from oxygen deprivation. This type of stress prompts the baby to take hard gasps and inhale large volumes of amniotic fluid deep into t
he airways. Doctors and nurses can therefore minimize the risk of MAS by carefully watching for early indications of fetal distress and intervening before the baby starts gasping amniotic fluid.

If MAS cannot be prevented, the delivery team needs to promptly identify the signs of MAS. A diagnosis is usually made when the baby is having breathing difficulties and there is meconium staining in the amniotic fluid. Once MAS is diagnosed, doctors must take immediate treatment steps to ensure that the baby is getting enough oxygen. Treatment of MAS usually involves the following steps:

  • External suctioning of the baby’s nose, mouth, and airways to clear out meconium and fluid.
  • Internal suctioning of the baby’s airway with a tracheal suction tube.
  • Using a face mask and ventilator bag to inflate the baby’s lungs and deliver oxygen.
  • Insertion of breathing tube and hooked up to a ventilator.

In many cases, the hospital will have a special neonatal resuscitation team to perform these treatments. Time is critical when it comes to responding to MAS. The doctors need to restore the baby’s supply of oxygen as quickly as possible to avoid any long-term brain or organ damage. If doctors or nurses fail to promptly identify MAS and take immediate action in response, they can be liable for medical malpractice.

Once the baby’s oxygen supply is restored, doctors must continue to carefully monitor MAS. Continued neonatal care is very important because even if a baby’s airways are cleared, MAS can lead to delayed complications such as anemia or infections.

These complications can result even with minor cases of MAS. Too many OBs and pediatricians fail to put up their antenna after finding meconium in the amniotic fluid because often meconium does not come with complications.

With the stakes as high as they are with the neonate and newborn’s brain, increased risk has to be met with increased diligence.

Meconium Aspiration Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Birth injury malpractice lawsuits our lawyers see involving meconium aspiration syndrome fall into two primary categories.

Failure to Diagnose or Treat During Childbirth

The first category is cases where medical professionals fail to promptly diagnose MAS or are too slow in doing what must be done to reduce the risk. This delay or inaction can lead to significant consequences, such as oxygen deprivation, which can cause severe injury or even death to the newborn. So what you often see in these lawsuits is a doctor who fails to recognize signs of fetal distress that may indicate all kinds of problems, including the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid. You have to act quickly or critical time is lost in preventing the baby from inhaling the contaminated fluid during delivery.

In this lawsuits, the defendants are the obstetricians and/or nurses who were responsible for the care of the mother and baby during labor and delivery.  So what you see is plaintiffs’ meconium aspiration lawyers arguing that the obstetrician failed to recognize signs of fetal distress that might indicate the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid.

Failure to Diagnose or Treat Newborn

The second category of meconium aspiration syndrome malpractice cases involves instances where the baby develops delayed complications from MAS due to inadequate neonatal monitoring and care. After the initial management of MAS, it is crucial for healthcare providers to vigilantly monitor the newborn for any signs of respiratory distress or other complications. Failure to provide diligent and ongoing neonatal care can result in the worsening of the baby’s condition, leading to long-term health issues such as chronic lung disease, developmental delays, or even cerebral palsy. In these cases, the healthcare provider’s negligence in postnatal care is a significant factor in the child’s continued suffering and health problems.

Common Thread in Both Cases

In both categories, the core issue is the failure of healthcare providers to meet the standard of care expected in managing meconium aspiration syndrome. This can involve a lack of timely intervention during delivery or insufficient monitoring and care after birth. Successful meconium aspiration malpractice lawsuits almost invariably hinge on proving that these lapses directly resulted in harm to the newborn Parents pursuing these cases seek to hold negligent parties accountable and obtain compensation to cover the extensive medical care and support their child will need due to the injury caused by MAS.

Defense of Meconium Birth Injury Cases

The background of the defense is that meconium in amniotic fluid occurs in up to 16% of births. So the defense lawyers try to set the stage that meconium is not the cause for alarms to be set off.  They want to be able explain why the doctor sat on their hands instead of taking immediate action.

The second big defense attorney argument you see is that meconium aspiration can occur in utero, well before the labor and delivery process. They contend that a fetus can aspirate thick meconium before childbirth, suggesting that any damage from meconium exposure may have already occurred and was thus unavoidable during delivery.

This argument is used to assert that the healthcare providers’ actions during labor and delivery may not have been the proximate cause of the newborn’s injuries. The defense seeks to demonstrate that the timing of the meconium aspiration limits the ability of medical staff to prevent the resultant harm.

Settlement Amounts and Jury Payouts in Meconium Aspiration Lawsuits

If your child has suffered a birth injury and failure to properly manage meconium was the cause, your family has one chance to get compensation for the injuries your child suffered. So it is a very reasonable question to ask what the average settlement value of meconium-related birth injury cases is and what your case might be worth.

The average settlement or verdict in meconium-related birth injury cases in the ten example cases below is over $5 million. Setting aside how unscientific this study is, the average verdict or settlement is of little interest to you. The question you want to know is the value of your child’s birth injury case.

Below are summaries of settlements and verdicts from birth injury malpractice cases involving meconium aspiration syndrome. These cases will help give you an idea of the kinds of medical mistakes involved and the amount of jury payouts and settlement compensation awarded in MAS cases.

You will notice that the most recent meconium aspiration settlement we have was back in 2020.  This is not a commonly filed birth injury claim.

  • 2020, New York: $1,318,182 Settlement: A newborn male suffered severe brain damage and other complications due to alleged medical malpractice during childbirth. The plaintiff claimed that the nurse midwife’s use and continuation of Cervidil, despite signs of fetal distress, delayed the delivery, leading to meconium aspiration and severe neurological impairment. The court recognized the child as eligible for the New York State Monetary Indemnity Fund. The structured settlement agreement included a total payout of $1,318,182, with the defendant contributing $800,000.
  • 2020, Virginia: $1,300,000 Settlement:  This birth injury lawsuit involved three obstetricians and their practice group, accused of negligence in co-managing a pregnancy that resulted in the birth of a severely brain-injured infant who died after 25 hours. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended delivery for patients with gestational hypertension at 37 weeks. However, three obstetricians failed to offer delivery at 37 4/7, 38, and 38 4/7 weeks despite hypertensive readings. The delay allowed the condition to worsen, harming the fetus. At 38 6/7 weeks, the mother presented with severe hypertension and decreased fetal movement. Fetal monitoring indicated severe distress, warranting immediate delivery. However, one obstetrician delayed the delivery by two hours, prioritizing a low-risk vaginal delivery of another patient. By the time a C-section was performed, the fetal heart rate had dropped to zero. The infant was born with severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, anemia, meconium aspiration, growth restriction, and feto-maternal hemorrhage, ultimately succumbing to the injuries after 25 hours. Plaintiff’s medical experts criticized the defendants for failing to document the patient’s chart adequately (always a red flag), evaluate new-onset hypertension properly, inform the patient for decision-making, offer timely delivery per guidelines, and deliver promptly given the fetal distress. The case settled at mediation for $1,300,000.
  • 2017, New York: $1,000,000 Settlement (policy limits): mother alleged that doctors misdiagnosed fetal weight via a misread sonogram and then failed to properly suction and perform chest physical therapy after a prolonged, difficult birth. As a result of these mistakes, she claimed her baby suffered Meconium Aspiration Syndrome, resulting in brain damage and leaving him with impaired speech and cognitive delays. The parties settled the case out of court for policy limits of $1,000,000.
  • 2017, Pennsylvania: $14,484,490 Verdict. A 24-year-old pregnant woman goes to the hospital and she is admitted and she is dilated. To induce her labor, defendants rupture her membranes. This reveals thick meconium stained amniotic fluid and a high dose of Pitocin is administered to increase the strength of her contractions. During the delivery process, the fetal heart rate drops extremely low. A surgical cut is done and the baby is born. At delivery, his vital signs are very low and he is unresponsive. He suffers severe brain damage. The infant’s parents hire a birth injury lawyer and file a meconium aspiration lawsuit that alleges that the Pitocin administration was improper and that the staff failed to properly monitor the woman’s labor. The defendants allege that the brain injury was due to the infant having a bowel movement in utero and being exposed to meconium for over 24 hours. This “the baby was already hurt” argument is very typical. But it failed miserably here. The jury awarded the plaintiff $14,484,490.
  • 2017, New York: $4,098,267 Verdict. Plaintiff goes to the hospital as she feels her fetus has stopped moving. She is examined and electronic monitoring of the fetus’s heart is non-reactive. A biophysical profile is done and the results warrant immediate induction of labor. A profile is done by another doctor, which reads that the infant is safe and the woman is discharged. The next day, she is transported to a hospital and her fetal heart monitoring results are non-reassuring. She delivers her infant via Caesarean section. The infant is bluish due to a lack of oxygen. Meconium has filled his lungs and he is not breathing. This is removed and he begins breathing again. The hires a meconium aspiration lawyer who filed a birth injury lawsuit claiming that her infant should have been delivered when she first went to the hospital and that a hypoxic injury to the child’s brain would have been avoided. A jury agreed with the woman and awarded the family a payout $4,098,267.
  • 2016, Pennsylvania: $7,270,000 Settlement. A woman gives birth to her first child via emergency C-section due to a prolonged labor stage. Two years later, she becomes pregnant with her second child and seeks care from the same obstetricians. Her prenatal course is uncomplicated. She goes to the hospital to have her labor induced and to have a vaginal birth attempted. Her fetal heart rate is monitored and is reassuring. Once her membranes rupture and she is fully dilated, she attempts to deliver her infant for five hours. The infant’s head is finally delivered, but the nasal passages and airway are filled with thick meconium. The rest of the infant is delivered without respiratory effort, suffering birth suffocation. He is diagnosed with a lack of oxygen to the brain and suffers permanent brain injury and neurological problems. The doctors denied responsibility.  So the mother hired a birth injury lawyer and filed a meconium aspiration lawsuit.  The doctors ultimately agreed to a settlement amount of $7,270,000.
  • 2014, New York: $3,065,899 Settlement. A woman is under the care of defendant midwives. While giving birth to her baby, the defendants fail to convert the vaginal birth to a Cesarean section, despite signs of fetal distress including meconium staining and non-reassuring fetal heart readings. The infant suffers cerebral palsy due to oxygen deprivation as well as neurological injury. The parties settle for $3,065,899.
  • 2014, $200,000 Settlement: The baby’s mother claimed she received negligent prenatal care when doctors misread her sonogram and negligently sent her home despite indications that her amniotic fluid was very low and other warnings that should have prompted an emergency delivery. The following day mother had severe preeclampsia and emergency delivery was performed. The baby suffered meconium aspiration syndrome that caused damage to his brain. The case was settled for $200,000.
  • 2014, Massachusetts:$3,250,000 Settlement. A woman goes to the hospital in labor. Upon admission, her infant’s heart rate is normal. Three hours later, it is persistent but shows mild decelerations. The woman has a fever but the doctors do not order antibiotics or initiate a Cesarean section. Eight hours after her admission to the hospital, the woman’s infant is experiencing an accelerated heartbeat, the membrane is ruptured, and there is thick meconium present. Despite these signs, an emergency delivery is not done. The infant is not delivered via Cesarean section until 24 hours after the woman gets to the hospital. The baby suffers a lack of oxygen to her brain and her mom files this case alleging negligence in the delay in delivery of the child with fetal distress. During mediation, the parties resolved the woman’s claim for $3,250,000.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome occurs when the baby takes its first poop while still inside the womb and then inhales that feces (meconium) into the lungs along with amniotic fluid. When this occurs before birth in can cause the baby to suffer neonatal respiratory problems.

What Causes Meconium Aspiration Syndrome?

Meconium aspiration is usually caused by fetal distress factors such as oxygen deprivation that causes the baby to take deep, gasping breaths and inhale amniotic fluid containing meconium.

You have to remember that the thick consistency of meconium. So there is this thick substance and there is a very small diameter of fetal airways. This creates obstructions.  This obstruction mechanism is similar to foreign body aspiration.

A meconium plug can cause complete blockage, leading to distal lung collapse and atelectasis. Partial obstruction results in a ball valve effect, increasing air trapping and raising the risk of air leak syndromes, such as pneumothorax.

How Can Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Be Prevented?

Doctors can reduce the potential for meconium aspiration by carefully monitoring for signs of fetal distress from oxygen deprivation and taking decisive action when these signs occur. The longer a baby is under duress the more likely they are to gasp and inhale any meconium in the womb.

How is Meconium Aspiration Syndrome Treated?

If MAS is immediately diagnosed after birth, doctors must take steps to clear the meconium from the airways. This starts with manual external suction of the airways. If this is not successful, the next step involves the insertion of a suction tube into the windpipe. In the most severe cases, the baby may need to be put on a ventilator.

Getting a Lawyer for Your Malpractice Claim

If your child has suffered a birth injury and you believe meconium exposure may have been the reason for the harm, call Ron Miller or Laura Zois today and let’s talk about your options.

Our lawyers have a track record of success in wrongful death and catastrophic birth injury cases. We can help you and your child get the compensation you need and deserve. Call Miller & Zois today and speak to our birth injury medical malpractice attorneys at 800-553-8082 or get an online case evaluation.

Meconium Aspiration Medical Literature

These are some of the journal articles we use in this article or our medical experts have relied upon to formulate their expert opinions:

  • Dini G, et. al: Meconium aspiration syndrome: From pathophysiology to treatment. Ann Med Surg. 2024;86(4):2023-2031. DOI: 10.1097/MS9.0000000000001835.
  • Desai D, et. al: Fetal heart rate patterns in patients with thick meconium staining of amniotic fluid and its association with perinatal outcome. Int J Reprod Contracept Obstet Gynecol. 2017;6(3):1030-1035.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Obstetric Practice. Committee Opinion No. 689: Delivery of a newborn with meconium-stained amniotic fluid. Obstet Gyneol 2017;129: e33-e34.
  • Swarmam K, et. al: Advance in the management of meconium aspiration syndrome. Int J Pediatr 2012:1-7 (induction for pregnancies at or beyond 41 weeks has led to a reduction in the incidence of MAS)
  • Velaphi S, Vidyasagar D. Intrapartum and post-delivery management of infants born to mothers with meconium-stained amniotic fluid: evidence-based recommendations. Clinics in Perinatology. 2006; 33(1):29–42.

Meconium Lawsuit Examples

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