Is The NICU Staff Responsible For My Baby’s Birth Injury?


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Most babies who are delivered by doctors or midwives are born perfectly healthy after being in the womb for a full-term pregnancy. However, in many cases, babies do not come into the world in that condition. When that happens, newborns often have to spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. This is undoubtedly a frightening time for parents, watching their infants fight to get better. Unfortunately, in some of these cases, mistakes are made, or the standard of care isn’t met, resulting in devastating outcomes.

What Is Neonatal Intensive Care?

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, often referred to as the NICU, is a section of the hospital that is responsible for providing care to seriously ill or premature newborns. The neonatal period is typically defined as the first 28 days of a baby’s life. It’s during this time that infants in critical condition are cared for in the NICU.

The NICU is designed to treat various types of medical conditions and illnesses affecting newborns, including:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Infections
  • Respiratory distress
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Drug or alcohol use by the mother during pregnancy
  • Aftereffects of fetal distress or umbilical cord problems
  • Birth defects
  • Need for IV fluids, blood transfusions, or medications

The staff in the NICU (doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other medical professionals) are specially trained to work with newborns and the issues that are unique to them. They, like all medical professionals, have a duty of care to these babies, and they are expected to maintain the standard of care. Often, that doesn’t happen.

What Are The Most Common NICU Errors?

While all newborn babies are delicate, those that are in the NICU require even more careful treatment and close monitoring. Even the smallest of mistakes can result in serious, sometimes lifelong, negative consequences, including permanent brain damage, seizure disorders, developmental disabilities, cerebral palsy (CP), hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL).

Some of the most common areas of negligence in the NICU are:

  • Newborn Resuscitation Errors – When a newborn isn’t breathing properly or at all immediately following birth, it may require resuscitation. Any delay in resuscitation can cause the baby’s brain to be severely deprived of oxygen, which can lead to significant complications.
  • Breathing Assistance Errors – When babies in the NICU are having their breathing assisted by ventilators, they must be monitored properly. Careful attention must be paid to the settings on the ventilator to make sure the baby is getting enough oxygen and getting rid of enough carbon dioxide (PCO2). Failure to do so may result in levels of PCO2 being too low, causing permanent brain damage and conditions like PVL, cystic PVL, and cerebral palsy.
  • Improperly Treated or Untreated Infections – Infections like sepsis, meningitis, villitis, chorioamnionitis, and herpes simplex virus encephalitis, as well as bacteria like group B streptococcus and e-coli, can cause serious complications with untreated or improperly treated. Results may include severe inflammation, decreased flow of oxygenated blood to the brain, brain damage, and ultimately permanent disabilities, including cerebral palsy.
  • Mismanagement of Intracranial Hemorrhages – Brain bleeds can occur during labor and delivery due to various reasons. In the NICU, if they are not recognized quickly and treated promptly, it can lead to severe brain damage. Blood transfusions, medications, and surgery may be necessary to treat these hemorrhages.
  • Undiagnosed or Improperly Treated Neonatal Hypoglycemia – Neonatal hypoglycemia happens when a newborn’s blood sugar, or glucose, drops too low in the first days of life. Without sufficient amounts of glucose, the brain will start to die. This can lead to brain damage, cerebral palsy, and seizures. 
  • Undiagnosed HIE and Failure to Provide Hypothermia Therapy – Treatment for HIE (hypothermia therapy or cooling the brain) must begin within six hours of injury to the brain to be effective. Failure to recognize HIE promptly and give hypothermia treatment to newborns in the NICU may be considered negligence.

The above are not the only types of mistakes that can lead to birth injury in the NICU; they are simply the most common. Other medical errors, including medication mistakes, and issues with IVs, tubes, and central lines can also cause permanent brain damage in infants, leading to a life-long need for medical care.

When Birth Injury Is Caused By Medical Malpractice

When a medical error or negligence occurs in the NICU, the results are often devastating. It’s the responsibility of the NICU staff to perform quick and appropriate medical interventions whenever an issue arises. If they fail to do that, and a birth injury results, it could be considered medical malpractice.

At Ross Feller Casey, we have been helping families in these terrible situations since 2006. Our staff is made up of experienced birth injury attorneys who have unmatched track records of winning medical malpractice lawsuits with landmark financial recoveries for our clients.

If your baby was injured while being treated in the NICU, we can help. One of our on-staff physicians can review your child’s medical records to determine where the negligence occurred, and our attorneys will work on your behalf to get you the compensation you are entitled to.

Contact our office today to schedule your free case evaluation. All medical malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, so there are no out-of-pocket charges to you until a financial recovery is made.  

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.