Birth-Related Injuries and Medical Malpractice: Who is Liable?

Welcoming a new baby into a family is a joyous occasion, but when an infant sustains a birth injury, joy turns to anxiety. In many cases, the injury is minor and the baby fully recovers, but in other circumstances, the injury results in life-altering consequences, long-term impairment, and in the most tragic cases, death. When the birth injury occurs because of a medical professional’s breach of the duty of care, negligence, or wrongdoing, parents have a right to file a medical malpractice claim and secure the financial resources required to ensure the best care and treatment for their injured infant. But first, it’s important to be clear about who is at fault in birth injury cases.

Who is Liable in Birth Injury Cases?

Many medical professionals take part in the birthing process. For parents of infants who’ve suffered a birth injury, it’s sometimes difficult to identify the member of the care team or hospital staff responsible. Responsible parties may include:

  • A doctor or medical professional
  • Medical staff
  • The hospital or clinic

Depending on the unique aspects of each case, liability may fall on an individual doctor or member of the medical staff who made an error or committed an act of negligence. Medical professionals have a standard of care to meet and when failing to meet that standard causes an injury it’s medical malpractice.

In other cases, the hospital or clinic where the injury occurs may retain liability in a birth injury claim. Hospitals take on the burden of liability or “vicarious liability” for the actions of their employees. Independent contractors are exceptions to hospital or clinic liability. Hospitals are also liable when a problem with hospital policy itself, a failure to uphold policies, or the hiring of unqualified medical professionals results in a birth injury.

Examples of Medical Negligence Leading to Birth-Related Injuries

Some forms of medical negligence may have long-term impacts on a child’s health, cognition, and development. Examples of medical negligence that sometimes lead to birth injuries may include the following:

  • Failure to properly monitor fetal heartbeat or detect fetal distress
  • Failure to detect or treat hemorrhaging from the mother
  • Failure to perform a timely C-section when medically necessary
  • C-section mistakes
  • Errors during labor induction
  • Medication mistakes
  • Improper use of forceps or vacuum tools during delivery
  • Harming the baby by too forceful pulling or twisting during exit from the birth canal

All of these circumstances can cause minor to severe injuries to vulnerable infants and indicate a failure on the part of the medical staff.

Types of Common Birth Injuries

Each labor and delivery is unique. Doctors and labor and delivery staff undergo detailed training on how to react appropriately to nearly all imaginable scenarios during delivery. If they fail to meet that high standard of expected care, both short and long-term birth injuries may occur. Some examples of birth injuries include:

  • Development of Cerebral Palsy
  • Perinatal asphyxiam or lack of oxygen
  • Facial paralysis
  • Cephalohematoma, or bleeding under the cranial bones
  • Brachial Plexus, or nerve damage in the area between the baby’s upper spine and the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand
  • Collarbone fracture
  • Bruises, swelling, or discoloration of the scalp
  • Intracranial hemorrhage
  • Spinal cord injury

Sometimes determining who is at fault for a birth injury resulting from negligence can be difficult. Medical staff support each other and hospitals are understandably reluctant to admit to errors, understaffing, or failure to adhere to proper procedures. Hospitals may try to hold an individual medical staffer responsible while a medical professional may try to claim the hospital is liable. Often it takes a skilled investigative attorney with experience with birth-related injuries to determine where liability lies and to secure financial compensation so parents can focus on the care their child requires for the best possible outcome.