What is a Birth Injury?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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A birth injury is a trauma to the baby that occurs during the birth process, and is generally caused by tremendous pressure put upon the baby while passing through the birth canal. It can be the result of factors such as prolonged labor, a “breech” (legs first) delivery, premature birth, doctor procedures (i.e., the use of forceps), and the small size or irregular shape of the mother’s pelvis.  If your child suffered a birth injury due to medical malpractice, you will need to understand how the injury was caused and work with an attorney to receive compensation.

Types of Birth Injuries

Many birth injuries, such as bruising, swelling, forceps scars and even the rare fracture (usually during a breech birth), are not serious and heal within a few weeks. Temporary loss of nerve or muscular function caused by bruising, pressure or swelling around the nerves can similarly resolve itself within weeks or months. However, if the nerves are torn, the following permanent conditions are possible:

  • Facial paralysis can be caused by pressure on the facial nerves during birth or by the use of forceps during birth. If the nerve was bruised, the condition generally improves within weeks. If torn, however, surgery may be required.
  • Brachial plexus injury (also known as Erb’s Palsy) is a paralysis or weakness of the arm caused by stretching of the nerves around the shoulder during birth. This damage can be caused by excessive pulling on the arm during birth or by pressure on by raised shoulders during a breech delivery. Most infants recover within 6 months, but those that do not will require surgery to make up for the nerve damage and have a poor outlook for improvement.
  • Cerebral palsy is a chronic disorder caused by trauma to the brain during or near the time of birth and its symptoms include the loss of movement or other nerve functions. The condition is not progressive (meaning that it does not worsen or improve with time) and its severity is determined by the type of damage done to the brain. A variety of medical mistakes, such as improper use of forceps or leaving the baby in the birth canal for too long (depriving the baby of enough oxygen), can cause cerebral palsy.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford publishes more information about birth injuries. If your child has suffered an injury due to another person’s negligence, you may be able to receive compensation for the ongoing costs and physical or emotional damage.  A personal injury attorney can tell you if you have a case worth pursuing, and estimate how much you may be able to receive.

Birth Injury Lawsuits

If your baby suffers a serious or permanent birth injury as a result of doctor or medical staff error, it is important for you to start looking into a claim as soon as possible.  Every state has a statute of limitations that limits when you can file a personal injury lawsuit – for example, some states allow 2 years from the date of the injury or from when the injury was or should have been discovered. If you miss the deadline, you will not be able to bring a lawsuit.  Birth injury claims or lawsuits should be handled by an experienced attorney who will review your case, determine the value of your child’s injury, and take the necessary legal steps to get the money you deserve.

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