How Does Medical Malpractice Cause Brain Damage During Childbirth?


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Expectant parents are often overjoyed at the possibilities that await their new child. Life is full of promise and their expectations are grand as they prepare to grow their family. So when they are told that their new baby is suffering from brain damage that occurred during delivery, it is devastating. Hopeful expectations are replaced with grief and fear for the health and future of their son or daughter. 

Brain damage resulting from complications at birth are generally caused by two types of injuries. The first is brain injury that is caused by a deprivation of oxygen, known as perinatal asphyxia or hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. The second is physical brain trauma injury that causes a severe hemorrhaging, or bleeding, in the brain. 

Though these two complications can occur through the fault of no one, there are times that the injuries are the result of the negligence of doctors, medical professionals, or defective delivery room equipment. When that occurs, it’s important for parents to have medical records reviewed by an experienced birth injury attorney to determine whether they could be entitled to compensation for their financial and emotional losses. 

When Brain Damage at Birth is Caused by Oxygen Deprivation

When the supply of oxygen is somehow slowed or hindered during labor and delivery, brain damage can happen. There are several ways that this can happen, many of which are preventable when the mother and baby are properly monitored by healthcare providers. Some of the more common situations that can cause oxygen deprivation during the birthing process are: 

  • Breech positioning of the baby
  • Prolapsed umbilical cord (when the umbilical cord is delivered before the baby) 
  • Compressed or twisted umbilical cord during birth
  • Undiagnosed or improperly treated infection in the mother before or during birth
  • Placenta that becomes unattached (partially or totally) before birth 
  • Uterine rupture 
  • Baby too large to go through the birth canal
  • Improper administration of epidural medication
  • Failure to perform C-section in timely manner 

Brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen can lead to many long-lasting injuries, disabilities, and conditions. Some of these conditions can be lifelong, and can involve intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and other complications that require a lifetime of care. 

When Brain Damage at Birth is Caused by Hemorrhage

Bleeding in the brain is most common in premature births. It occurs when there is insufficient blood flow to the brain (ischemia) or a lack of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia). It is often undetected in newborns because frequently they don’t exhibit symptoms. Newborns with this type of hemorrhage may seem lethargic or not want to feed, both of which are sometimes explained with an incorrect diagnosis. There are several types of brain hemorrhages that may occur: 

Subdural hemorrhage – This type of hemorrhage occurs between the inner and outer layers of the covering of the brain. It can cause increased pressure to the surface of the brain, and lead to seizures or increased levels of bilirubin in the blood.  

Subarachnoid hemorrhage – This type of hemorrhage occurs below the two deepest membranes of the brain. Infants may have seizures with this type of hemorrhage during their first few days, but they tend to recover and thrive as they get older. 

Intraventricular hemorrhage – This type of hemorrhage happens in the brain’s normal fluid-filled spaces (ventricles). It typically happens to very premature babies and isn’t usually the result of a brain injury. 

Intraparenchymal hemorrhage – This type of hemorrhage occurs in the brain tissue itself. Like intraventricular hemorrhages, intraparenchymal hemorrhages usually affect very premature babies and isn’t typically the result of a brain injury. 

Proving Negligence in a Birth Injury Lawsuit 

Cases of birth injury that are caused by a medical professional’s mistake or carelessness are considered medical malpractice and medical negligence. Proving medical negligence is more than simply demonstrating that something went wrong during labor or delivery. Rather, each medical malpractice case must prove the following: 

  1. That the medical professional’s conduct (action or inaction) violated or fell short of the accepted standard of care. 
  2. That the breach of the standard of care caused the birth injury to the newborn. 
  3. That there were damages that resulted from the injury. 

Medical malpractice cases almost always require the testimony of expert witnesses who have experience in the medical field – especially those cases that go to trial. 

See an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney for Your Case 

If you or a family member has a child that suffered brain damage at birth and you believe that medical malpractice is to blame, it’s crucial that you seek the guidance of an experienced birth injury attorney to investigate and evaluate your case. You may be entitled to compensation for the damages your family has suffered in the past, as well as those that you will incur in the future. 

The attorneys at Ross Feller Casey have an unmatched record of winning multimillion-dollar birth injury cases in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania and beyond. Contact us for your free case evaluation and we will help you determine if you have a lawsuit. 

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.