Pennsylvania Birth Lawyers
The phrase "birth injury" typically means any type of physical damage or harm that a baby experiences during labor and delivery. Childbirth is a physically difficult process so injuries to the baby are unavoidable in some cases. However, a large percentage of birth injuries are actually the direct result of medical errors or negligent care. Although Pennsylvania is home to some of the best hospitals in the world, hundreds of birth injuries still occur every year as a result of medical negligence. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law gives parents of injured babies the right to seek financial compensation from negligent healthcare providers. This page will summarize: (1) the most common types of birth injuries in Pennsylvania; (2) the medical errors that cause them;Common Birth Injuries in Pennsylvania Bone Fractures & External Trauma
Orthopedic injuries (broken bones), bruises, lacerations and other external physical injuries to the baby are very common in difficult vaginal deliveries. Getting through the narrow birth canal is a difficult progression that is physically strenuous on the baby. Often the pushing, pulling and twisting forces involved in this process result in broken bones, contusions, and cuts. For obvious reasons, larger babies are more at risk for these types of injuries. Complications like shoulder dystocia or fetal macrosomia also make orthopedic injuries and external trauma more likely. Below are some of the most common types of injuries in this category:
- Fractured Clavicle: a broken clavicle (collarbone) is the most frequent type of orthopedic birth injury seen in Pennsylvania hospitals. The reason for this is simple, the shoulders are the broadest point of the baby's body and they get stuck behind the mother's pelvis (shoulder dystocia). When this occurs, the clavicle is particularly vulnerable to fracture. In some instances, this injury is genuinely unavoidable, but there are large number of fracture clavicles are the result of doctors using excessive force or traction when pulling the baby out.
- Caput Succedaneum: caput succedaneum is a particular type of swelling in the head/scalp of a newborn baby. It is caused by excessive external pressure on the baby's head during a long delivery. By itself, caput succedaneum is not a serious injury but it can lead to more severe injury.
The nervous system is like the network that the brain uses to control the body through electrical impulse signals. Nerve channels connect various parts of the body to the brain. When these channels are damaged it can disrupt signals from the brain and affect body movement. The brachial plexus is a specific nerve network that handles signals from the brain to the hands and arms. The key junction point of the brachial plexus nerves is located between the shoulder and the neck. Due to its location in the vulnerable shoulder area, the brachial plexus nerves are frequently damaged from external trauma during vaginal delivery. Hundreds of brachial plexus injuries occur each year in Pennsylvania. Damage to the brachial plexus nerves results in a condition called Erb's Palsy. This is a very common birth injury in which the baby has some level of paralysis in one of their arms / hands.Brain Injuries
The majority of brain injuries during childbirth are caused by oxygen deprivation. The brain must get a continuous flow of oxygenated blood in order to survive. If this supply of oxygen is cut or restricted cells in the brain will die in just a short period of time. During labor and delivery, the delivery of oxygen to the baby's brain is vulnerable to interruption by a number of events. Oxygen deprivation during childbirth causes permanent brain damage that can result in certain disabilities. The most common birth injury caused by brain damage is cerebral palsy.Common Medical Errors Resulting in Birth Injuries
Most birth injuries are simply an inevitable byproduct of a very difficult. However, approximately 30-40% of birth injuries in Pennsylvania are actually caused by medical error or negligent care. A review of cases in Pennsylvania indicates that there are certain types of medical negligence that repeatedly cause birth injuries.
- Delay or Failure to Perform C-section: performing a timely emergency C-section (or scheduling one in advance) is often the key to avoiding many birth injuries. In Pennsylvania, the standard of care requires OB/GYNs to diagnose conditions, anticipate complications and step with a C-section when necessary to avoid injury to the baby. Failure or delay in performing a C-section to avoid injury is by far the most common type of birth injury malpractice in Pennsylvania.
- Negligent Monitoring: electronic monitoring devices, such as the fetal heart rate monitor, can give doctors advance warning of possible complications and the opportunity to avoid injury with an emergency C-section. Unfortunately, these devices tend to give many false positive warnings. As a result many doctors tend to ignore warning indicators until it's too late.
- Forceps / Vacuum Negligence: vacuum extractors and obstetrical forceps are tools that OB/GYNs sometimes use to assist with a difficult vaginal delivery. Both devices are designed to grip the baby's head and give the doctor leverage to maneuver them through the birth canal. Using these instruments requires a very high level of skill and care by the doctor. There is a very small margin for error and small mistakes in using these tools can frequently lead to birth injuries.
Pennsylvania law regarding medical malpractice claims for birth injuries is similar to most other states. To have a valid medical malpractice claim for a birth injury in Pennsylvania, the parents must show:
- that the doctor(s) somehow breached the medical "standard of care;" and
- the birth injury was the proximate result of that breach.
Pennsylvania defines the "standard of care" as the normal medical care another doctor would have provided under similar circumstances. In order to have a valid claim for malpractice, the negligent care or mistake must also result in injury. For example, let's say a doctor gets numerous warnings of fetal distress from the monitoring equipment during labor. The doctor disregards the warnings and attempts to deliver the baby vaginally for another 90 minutes. Eventually, the doctor realizes the baby is in real danger and orders an emergency C-section, but the baby is born with brain damage. To prevail on a malpractice claim, the parents only need to show that a normal doctor under the same circumstances would not have ignored the fetal distress warnings and could have avoided injury to the baby with a timely C-section.
Pennsylvania also has some favorable law when it comes to making birth injury claims against hospitals. In a case called Thompson v. Nasson, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created an independent cause of action for corporate negligence arising from the policies, actions, or inactions of the hospital or HMO itself rather than any of the specific acts of the individual HMO or hospital employees. Under corporate liability, a corporation can be held directly liable as opposed to vicariously liable for its own negligent acts. When crafting corporate liability, the Supreme Court recognized that such liability was justified based upon the comprehensive nature of the healthcare provided by a hospital.Sample Pennsylvania Birth Injury Verdicts & Settlements
Below are summaries of recently reported settlements and verdicts from Pennsylvania birth injury cases.
- Tate v. United States (Pennsylvania 2018) $42 million: In this case, an OB/GYN at a federally funded health clinic in Philadelphia used obstetrical forceps to assist in the vaginal delivery. The doctor's unskilled use of the forceps fractured the baby's skull in multiple places resulting in hydrocephalus and severe brain hemorrhaging. The baby underwent multiple brain surgeries and was left with permanent brain damage and mental disabilities. The doctor was found to be negligent in his decision to perform a mid-forceps delivery in the absence of any emergency and negligent in his use of the forceps. After a bench trial in the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, plaintiffs were awarded $42 million in damages - which included $33 million for future medical expenses.
- GC Pro Ami Charlton v. Delaware Mem. Hosp. (Pennsylvania 2018) $40 million: Going into labor it was discovered that the baby was in a foot-first breach position, instead of head first. Despite this complication, the defendant OB/GYN decided to go ahead with a vaginal delivery. The baby became stuck in the birth canal and in an effort to get her out the doctor allegedly used excessive lateral traction and force. This excessive force severely injured the baby's spinal cord leaving her paralyzed from the chest down and permanently confined to a wheelchair. A jury in Delaware County awarded the parents $40 million in damages.
- McCallister v. Women & Babies Hosp. of Lancaster (Pennsylvania 2017) $1 million: Vaginal delivery was complicated by shoulder dystocia (a common condition where the baby's shoulder becomes stuck in the birth canal). In response, the doctor employed forceps to maneuver the baby through the birth canal, but the baby suffered a dislocated shoulder and injury to the brachial plexus nerves. The baby was later diagnosed with Erb's palsy. In the malpractice case, the parents accused the doctor of negligently failing to order an emergency C-section and of unskilled used of the forceps in response to the shoulder dystocia. In defense, the doctor insisted that his actions were necessary and appropriate because an emergency arose when the birth cord became wrapped around the baby's neck. The case was settled prior to trial for $1 million.
- Townes v. West Penn Allegheny Health Sys. (Pennsylvania 2017) $1.1 million: 4 hours into labor the fetal monitor strips sounded emergency alarms indicating no fetal heart best was detected. Despite the warnings, it took 20 minutes before the nurses responded by calling the doctor who immediately performed an emergency c-section. The mother sued the hospital for malpractice claiming that the 20-minute delay in performing the C-section was negligent and that her baby suffered permanent brain damages as a result of the delay. The case settled for $1.1 million.
The lawyers at Miller & Zois have handled hundreds of birth injury malpractice cases and have a long track record of delivering effective, meaningful results to our clients. If your new baby has a birth injury and you think it might be the result of medical negligence, Miller & Zois can help. We will gather your medical records and fully investigate your case and get financial compensation if you have a valid claim. Calls us at 800-553-8082 or get an online case evaluation.