Childbirth is an emotional time, potentially one of the happiest moments of your life. Medical negligence can take all that away in one fell swoop.
Wrongful birth is a catch-all legal phrase for any situation where a child is born with birth defects. There are huge legal implications from this as it means parents are forced into making major life-changing decisions with massive cost implications should they decide to rear the child. A successful compensation claim is hugely crucial here as it can really help alleviate the burden.
Here are some of the main areas where medical negligence can interfere with and damage the whole process of childbirth:
This is a general term that covers a number of neurological conditions that will affect a child’s movements and co-ordination. It’s caused by damage to the brain before, during or just after birth. There are different types of cerebral palsy of varying severity. Some children will still have a measure of cognitive ability, some won’t. It will also affect their muscle tone which means they may either appear rigid and stiff (hypertonia) or floppy (hypotonia). Cerebral palsy can be brought about through infection during pregnancy, a difficult or premature birth, bleeding in the baby’s brain or abnormal brain development in the baby. No two people are affected the same way but the repercussions are huge.
Erbs palsy is a nerve injury that affects the movement of a child’s shoulder, arm or hand and is usually caused by excessive force being applied to the baby’s head during the childbirth process. The baby may be too large to easily fit into the birth canal. Sometimes the shoulder will get stuck, a condition known as “shoulder dystocia”. Pulling is then required to get the baby into the proper birthing position and that’s when the injury is likely to occur. Sometimes this can be temporary and will wear off after a couple of months. But unfortunately in about 20% of all cases, the injury is so severe that the nerves have actually been torn from their normal points of attachment, leading to permanent paralysis. So your obstetrician should be looking out for all the risk factors that could lead to a case of Erb’s palsy. These include a previous child with shoulder dystocia born to the mother, induced or prolonged labours, larger babies, women with small pelvic openings, breech births or a bad foetal position in the birth canal. If a baby is born with Erb’s palsy, it will appear to have a weakness or paralysis in its shoulder, arm or hand and will typically hold its limp arm down by its side with the forearm turned inwards and the wrist bent. The baby won’t be able to lift its affected arm, even when startled, and if the injury is very bad, it may also have a droopy eyelid.
About 10% of first-time pregnancies will involve pre-eclampsia, a condition that usually affects the expectant mother around the 20 week mark or immediately after delivery. Women with this condition will suffer from high blood pressure, fluid retention (oedema) and protein in the urine (proteinuria). If it’s not treated, it can be very serious for both mother and child. No one’s really sure what causes it but the general consensus is that it involves a problem with the placenta. Trouble is a lot of pregnant women don’t actually realise that they have pre-eclampsia until it’s (hopefully) diagnosed in an antenatal appointment. Mild pre-eclampsia can be easily monitored with blood pressure and urine tests; the more severe kind will require hospitalisation. If it’s not dealt with properly it can lead to full eclampsia (a type of seizure that’s life-threatening for mother and baby and is mercifully very rare – less than 1% of women will develop this), HELLP Syndrome which is a liver and blood clotting disorder, cerebral haemorrhage, pulmonary oedema which is a build-up of fluids around the lungs, or kidney or liver failure.
This is a condition that involves complete or partial muscle paralysis of the brachial plexus which is a network of nerves that run from the neck down the arm. It’s generally characterised by what’s known as a “claw hand”.
Complications during and after the birth process itself
Thankfully the process of giving birth is so common, most clinicians are very familiar with what should and should not be done. Occasionally, however, things might not go according to plan. Medical negligence can occur when:
- The doctor/ physician/ obstetrician has failed to anticipate any potential complications such as a large sized baby or a tangled umbilical cord
- He or she fails to respond adequately to foetal distress
- He or she doesn’t proceed with a Caesarean section when one is appropriate
- Forceps or a vacuum extractor is used incorrectly
- The doctor writes an incorrect prescription dosage
- The nurse administers an incorrect amount of prescription medication
- The equipment delivering the prescription medication malfunctions
There have been many medical negligence errors made through the incorrect administering of anaesthesia. Even the smallest mistake on the part of the anaesthesiologist can result in permanent brain damage or even death. Mistakes have been known to happen over any of the following:
- Failing to investigate the patient’s medical history properly for any potential complications
- Failing to inform the patient of the potential risks involved
- Giving too much anaesthesia to the patient
- Giving too little
- Failing to properly monitor the patient’s vital signs
- Improperly intubating the patient (ie, putting the tube down their throat to help them breathe)
- Using defective equipment
Childbirth can often lead to surgery and no surgical procedure is ever entirely without risk. A surgeon might accidentally puncture an internal organ, or operate on the wrong body part, or leave a surgical instrument inside the body. They’ve all been known to happen. The post-op care from the nursing staff might be substandard, leading to possible infection. There have even been instances where no one has actually remembered to get full consent from the patient prior to operating on them. If any of these has happened to you, then you should have a solid case for medical negligence.
Childbirth is such a very special time in people’s lives, the disappointment, horror or disbelief if something goes wrong during it is just incalculable. We’ve dealt with many cases over the years in this emotional arena. We know all the legal routes and who to talk to from an expert’s perspective to help us get to the bottom of a case as quickly as possible. But, just as importantly, we happen to be people too, just like you. We can recognise your pain and anguish and truly sympathise with it. With us working on your behalf, you’ll be getting the legal help you need but you’ll also be getting the necessary emotional support which is just as valuable.