One of the most wonderful, exciting, and inspiring times in a family’s life is the experience of bringing a new baby into the world. However, sometimes a medical professional involved in the preparation or delivery of the baby makes a medical mistake, resulting in injury or even death to the baby or mother. Medical professionals have a duty to provide medical treatment that is in accordance with approved medical protocols. When a medical professional deviates from these protocols or makes an error in judgment or action, they must be held accountable for their negligent conduct. If you or your baby suffered a birth injury that was caused by the medical negligence of a medical professional, you may seek compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is important to preserve your rights so that you may proceed with a medical malpractice claim. A consultation with a West Virginia birth injury attorney can give you the guidance and information you need to understand your legal options and how you may proceed. Tiano O’Dell, PLLC, a law firm based in Charleston, West Virginia, represents clients throughout the state of West Virginia. A complimentary consultation is available for you – read on.
Types of Birth Injuries
There are many birth injuries that may result from negligent conduct on the part of the physician, staff, hospital or others involved in the birth process. These birth injuries include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Brain damage – hypoxia, or lack of oxygen during delivery, can result in irreversible brain damage that may result in permanent disability and the need for continual care
- Erb’s palsy/brachial palsy – when the newborn’s shoulder gets stuck in the womb, usually by the mother’s pelvic bone, the physician may pull too hard, resulting in damage to the nerves in the baby’s shoulder area
- Cerebral palsy – results from lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain and causes developmental problems, causing motor skill deficiencies
- Kernicterus – caused by excessive bilirubin in the blood and can cause permanent brain damage
- Other injuries
Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage
The Brain Injury Association of America states that traumatic brain injuries are one of the leading causes of permanent disability for children and infants. Brain damage can have one of two broad causes: the first is the application of force (i.e. negligent forceps extraction or shaken baby syndrome). The second is oxygen deprivation, such as during a long or particularly difficult delivery. No matter the underlying cause, your infant may exhibit any of the following signs and symptoms of brain damage:
Symptoms Evident Shortly After Birth
Some of the first signs of brain damage are evident in the hours and days following an infant’s birth. You may notice any, but not necessarily all of the following:
- An abnormally shaped spine or forehead
- Facial features that appear distorted
- Head that is abnormally large or small
- Abnormally large forehead
- Neck stiffness
- Difficulty focusing gaze
As you spend more time with your infant at home, you may notice that they have a different temperament than other babies. Infants with brain damage may:
- Experience trouble sleeping
- Cry excessively
- Have problems feeding or growing
- Appear extremely fussy for no apparent reason
Infants with brain damage may also exhibit an abnormal temperament, with symptoms including:
- Trouble sleeping while lying down
- Excessive crying
- Problems with feeding
- Excessively fussy for no apparent reason
Symptoms of Brain Damage During Development
Throughout infancy, a typical developing infant will hit certain milestones within a certain predictable time frame. When an infant exhibits symptoms of a developmental delay, it may be a sign that the baby experienced a birth injury. Common forms of developmental delays include:
- Difficulty with memory and processing information
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty acquiring and using language
- Trouble relating to and communicating with peers
In some cases, brain damage might not be readily apparent until a child enters school and receives a diagnosis of a learning disability.
Physical Delays in Development
Often, a parent will first notice a deficit in fine or gross motor skills. Children with brain damage might miss important developmental milestones such as:
- Sitting unsupported
- Pulling to stand
- Feeding and self-care
- Jumping or skipping
- Coloring, drawing, or tying shoes
- Walking up and down stairs unassisted
- Holding items with thumb and forefinger (pincer grip) without dropping
An infant may also exhibit additional physical symptoms that may indicate a neurological disorder. These include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Extreme fatigue
- Sensitivity to light or textures
Finally, an infant or child may begin to experience perceptual issues. These may be harder to diagnose, but include the following:
- Spatial disorientation
- Heightened or decreased sensitivity to pain
- Vision or hearing problems
A child does not have to experience all of these symptoms to have brain damage, and a child with many of these symptoms does not necessarily have the condition, either. If you notice some of these symptoms in your child, your first course of action should be to speak with a highly skilled West Virginia birth injury lawyer.
What Causes Brain Damage in Babies?
Just as there are many symptoms of brain damage in babies, there are also many causes. Some of the most common include oxygen deprivation, physical trauma, certain maternal infections, and jaundice. Damage may vary widely in severity and often leads to persistent developmental and psychological issues.
Birth asphyxia, or oxygen deprivation, is relatively rare, occurring in four of every 1000 full-term births. Premature babies carry a higher risk of oxygen deprivation, because their lungs are often underdeveloped. Complex biological processes drive a baby’s transition from getting oxygen from their mother to breathing on their own. If something goes wrong during this transition, brain damage may result. Insufficient oxygen, or a complete lack of oxygen, for only a few moments, can lead to lifelong brain damage or complex neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, autism, or ADHD.
Birth asphyxia may occur as the result of umbilical cord problems, issues with maternal blood pressure, or placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates too early from the uterus. Many of these issues are preventable with diligent medical care and intervention.
Infant jaundice is a common condition and does not lead to damage in most cases. It is the result of excessive bilirubin in the baby’s bloodstream. When treated immediately, there is usually little cause for concern. Left untreated, however, increased stress on the baby’s circulatory system can lead to a condition called kernicterus. This is a rare form of brain damage that occurs when bilirubin gets into the brain and destroys its tissues. Symptoms include high fever, high pitched screaming, and an arching back.
Certain types of physical trauma may make infants more susceptible to brain injury, especially if they are premature. During the labor and delivery process, medical mistakes may lead to permanent damage or disability. Examples include:
- Improper use of birth assisting tools
- Improper placement of vacuum or forceps
- Prolonged or difficult delivery (i.e. baby stuck in the birth canal without assistance)
- Forcible delivery (i.e. delivering a baby too rapidly)
Physicians must monitor and detect maternal infections in a timely manner during pregnancy. Failure to diagnose and treat certain infections such as varicella, rubella, herpes, and syphilis, can lead to permanent fetal brain damage. Other types of potentially problematic infections include:
- Genital warts
Babies born to women with maternal infections may also be at a higher risk for cognitive issues, childhood epilepsy, and other developmental issues.
Lastly, maternal infection also increases the risk of premature birth, which in turn may increase a baby’s chance of cerebral palsy. Children born with low birth weight are at higher risk for developmental and cognitive disabilities.
When to Contact a West Virginia Birth Injury Attorney
It is emotionally heart-wrenching when a baby is injured, or dies, during the birth process. If your physician or other licensed medical professional was negligent in their duties, you may seek compensation for injuries in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Tiano O’Dell, PLLC is a Charleston law firm that handles birth injury and negligence cases throughout West Virginia. With their experience, resources, and legal expertise, the attorneys at our firm are well prepared to handle your birth injury case.
We consult with top OB/GYN and other medical professionals and utilize their expertise during the preparation of your case and during trial (although most cases are settled out of court). Firm founders William Tiano and Tony O’Dell have been named as Top 100 trial lawyers, as well as West Virginia Super Lawyers, for their superior client service and legal professionalism. There are no fees involved unless we win or settle your case. To schedule a free consultation, contact Tiano O’Dell, PLLC at (304) 720-6700.