Obstetric forceps are a tool that doctors sometimes use to assist in a complicated vaginal delivery. Forceps can be potentially dangerous for the baby. They require a high degree of skill and technique on the doctor’s part. A small mistake with forceps can cause serious injury to the baby and result in permanent birth injuries.
This page is about birth injury malpractice lawsuits involving the misuse of forceps. Our lawyers discuss how these claims work, how they are valued for settlement, and provide recent example of jury payout and settlement amounts in forceps malpractice claims.
Forceps in Childbirth
Obstetrical forceps are a tool that doctors can use to grip a baby’s head and help maneuver it through the birth canal. Forceps look like salad tongs with curved cups on the ends. These cups are designed to fit inside the birth canal and give the doctor a helpful grip on the top of the baby’s head.
While forceps can be an effective tool for assisting with difficult deliveries. No one denies this. But forceps come with risks, and you must know how and when to use them. The use of forceps during delivery can lead to various birth injuries, including skull fractures, brain damage, and nerve damage. These injuries can have serious, long-term consequences for the baby, including developmental delays, cognitive impairment, and physical disabilities.
Although forceps deliveries are sometimes necessary, they present a much higher risk of birth injuries. This is particularly true with forceps that are harder to use and have a much higher rate of injury than other assistance tools such as vacuum extractors.
When Should Forceps be Used?
Obstetrical forceps should only be used in difficult vaginal deliveries when usual pushing and uterine contractions are not working. Even then, current medical guidelines state that forceps should only be used if several other criteria are also present:
- membranes have already ruptured
- the cervix is fully dilated, and
- the baby has entered head-first into the birth canal
These are just the essential pre-conditions that should exist before a doctor even thinks about using forceps. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has published even more detailed guidelines for when forceps may be appropriate. According to the ACOG guidelines, in addition to the three basic pre-conditions listed above, one of the following circumstances should be present for the use of forceps to be appropriate: (1) prolonged labor of over 3 hours, (2) signs of fetal distress, and (3) maternal fatigue.
Even if all of these pre-conditions and guidelines are present, however, using attempting a forceps delivery would still not be appropriate if an emergency C-section was possible under the circumstances at the time.
How Forceps Cause Birth Injuries
There are so many strict conditions and guidelines for using forceps because they present a very significant risk of injury to the baby. Forceps can be safe and effective, but they present an extremely tight margin for error on the doctor’s part. If the doctor applies slightly too much pressure or grips the baby’s head at the wrong angle, the forceps can and usually will cause severe trauma to the baby’s head. Head trauma from forceps can lead to brain damage.
Unlike vacuum extractors, obstetrical forceps can twist the baby into position. This is a complicated maneuver and, if not done perfectly, can result in other types of injuries to the baby’s spine, nerves, and shoulders.
Types of Malpractice with Forceps
There are several different types of forceps malpractice that can lead to birth injuries. One common type of malpractice is the improper use of forceps during delivery. This can include using too much force, forceps that are too large for the baby’s head, or forceps in the wrong position. When forceps are misused, they can cause severe damage to the baby’s skull, brain, and nerves.
Another type of forceps malpractice is failure to monitor the baby during delivery. Obstetricians must carefully monitor the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels during delivery to ensure that the baby is not experiencing distress. If the obstetrician fails to monitor the baby properly, they may be unable to detect signs of distress that tells the doctors the baby cannot wait for a doctor to take their time in delivering the child with forceps.
Finally, forceps malpractice can also occur when an obstetrician fails to recognize that a delivery is too difficult for forceps to be used safely. In some cases, a c-section may be necessary to deliver the baby safely, but if the obstetrician fails to recognize this and proceeds with forceps, they may cause serious injury.
Common Forceps Birth Injuries
The field of birth injuries that a forceps delivery can cause range from mild bruises on the head to permanent brain damage. The primary point of concern in a forceps delivery is physical injury to the baby’s head from excessive pressure or improper gripping. The baby’s nerves and spine are also at risk.
A neonatal intracranial hemorrhage is commonly referred to as a brain bleed. External physical trauma to the baby’s head by forceps can result in this type of internal brain bleeding that can lead to severe and permanent injuries.
Using forceps duhttps://www.birthinjuryhelpcenter.org/brain-bleed-birth.htmling delivery can increase the risk of developing a hematoma. A hematoma is a collection of blood that forms outside of blood vessels, usually due to injury or trauma.
When forceps are used during delivery, they can cause trauma to the baby’s scalp and skull, leading to a hematoma formation. Hematomas that form on the baby’s scalp are the most common type of birth injury associated with forceps delivery.
Several different types of hematomas can occur as a result of forceps delivery. The most common type is a cephalohematoma, a blood collection that forms between the baby’s scalp and skull. Cephalohematomas are typically not dangerous and usually resolve independently within a few weeks. However, they can indicate more serious underlying injuries, such as skull fractures or brain damage.
Another type of hematoma that can also occur due to forceps delivery is a subgaleal hematoma. This more severe type of hematoma occurs when blood collects beneath the scalp and separates the scalp from the skull. Subgaleal hematomas can be life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated promptly, as they can cause severe bleeding and shock or death.
Damages in Forceps Malpractice Lawsuits
Damages in forceps malpractice lawsuits can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case, the severity of the birth injury, and the jurisdiction in which the lawsuit is filed.
Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for the harm they have suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. These damages may include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and future medical care. In forceps malpractice lawsuits, the cost of medical care can be exceptionally high, as birth injuries may require ongoing medical treatment and rehabilitation.
While not common, punitive damages may also be available in some forceps malpractice lawsuits. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their misconduct and deter similar conduct. However, punitive damages are typically only awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or malicious.
When do these cases settle when they do settle? Birth injury malpractice lawsuits rarely go all the way to trial, but they do not typically settle early in the litigation process. Settlements in forceps malpractice lawsuits may be reached at the end of the pretrial discovery process. Settlement compensation and jury payouts in forceps malpractice lawsuits can vary widely depending on the case’s specific circumstances. Some jury payouts have been in the millions of dollars, particularly in cases where the birth injury is severe and the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious. But each case is so different – you can make no one-size-fits-all conclusions about value. However, it’s important to note that there is no guarantee of a specific payout in a forceps malpractice lawsuit, as each case is unique and depends on various factors.
It is also worth noting that your lawyers and your law firm matter. The best birth injury lawyers get the best settlement amounts and jury payouts. To maximize the damages awarded in a forceps malpractice lawsuit, it’s important to work with an experienced birth injury attorney who can help you gather the necessary evidence, consult with medical experts, and build a strong case on your behalf. An experienced attorney who has handled forceps malpractice lawsuits can help you navigate the complex legal process and ensure that your rights are fully protected.
Forceps Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements
- $800,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2022): An infant reportedly suffered delivery-related injuries and trauma, including facial disfigurement, left cranial nerve palsy, and eye damage which required eye muscle surgery. The lawsuit alleged that the defendant OB/GYN misplaced forceps over the infant’s left eye and right ear during the delivery. According to the infant’s parents, the doctor applied the forceps without explaining why or if they were needed, misplaced the forceps, and had trouble getting the ‘blades or halves’ to lay correctly, delivering the infant with immediately noticeable trauma to his head and face.
- $97,402,549 Verdict (Iowa 2022): Nursing staff at the hospital allegedly ignored signs of fetal distress on the monitoring tracings, and the doctor first attempted delivery with forceps and then a vacuum extractor. The doctor applied too much pressure with the forceps and fractured the baby’s skull, causing a severe brain bleed when he should have opted for an emergency C-section instead. The brain bleed resulted in permanent brain damage leaving the baby severely disabled for the remainder of his life.
- $7,688,862 Verdict (Missouri 2020): a newborn male allegedly suffered significant permanent damage to the left side of his brain after suffering a stroke, leading to cerebral palsy and right-sided hemiplegia. The lawsuit alleged that the doctor was medically negligent for choosing to use forceps during the delivery, improperly placing the forceps on the head of the plaintiff infant, and using excessive force during the delivery.
- $1,000,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2018): In this case, the doctor negligently opted to attempt a forceps delivery after shoulder dystocia was encountered. Then the doctor was negligent in applying excessive force and lateral traction during the forceps delivery. The baby suffered a right brachial plexus injury, left 6th nerve/abducens palsy, and a fractured and dislocated right arm, and was diagnosed with Erb’s palsy.
- $17,967,087 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2017): The doctor in this case negligently applied excessive traction and pressure on the baby’s skull during a forceps delivery. The baby suffered two skull fractures, a left cerebral contusion, fourth ventricular compression, hydrocephalus, and other permanent injuries. The verdict included $12.8 million in economic damages ($9.3 for future medical expenses and $3.5 for future lost earnings).
Getting a Lawyer for Your Foreceps Malpractice Claim
If your child has suffered from a birth injury due to mistakes during childbirth our law firm has the experience and resources to help you get the compensation you deserve. Our attorneys – including a nurse-attorney – regularly handle birth injury lawsuits across the country. You want to find the best birth injury attorney that you can. If you decide that it is our lawyers, call Miller & Zois today and speak to a birth injury medical malpractice attorney at 800-553-8082 or get an online case evaluation.