This page will look at medical malpractice cases involving birth injuries in North Carolina. We will review the key points of North Carolina tort law and examine the settlement value of North Carolina birth injury lawsuits based on reported settlements and trial verdicts.
What Is a Birth Injury?
A birth injury is defined as a physical injury, damage, or harm inflicted on a baby because of something that occurs during the process of childbirth (or pregnancy). Birth injuries differ from birth defects in that they are not genetically inherited. Instead, birth injuries are a product of events going wrong during delivery, usually as the result of medical negligence.
Common Types of Birth Injuries
- Cerebral Palsy: cerebral palsy is a debilitating disorder in which the brain lacks the ability to transmit signals to coordinate certain muscles in the body. Cerebral palsy is one of the most serious types of birth injuries and it is usually caused by neurologic damage during labor and delivery from oxygen deprivation.
- Brain Injuries – Permanent damage to the baby’s brain can result if there is any prolonged loss or reduction in the supply of oxygen during the childbirth process. Oxygen circulation to the baby can be disrupted by a host of obstetric complications Diligent monitoring of the baby’s heart rate and proper medical care by the delivery team can prevent this.
- Erb’s Palsy – Erb’s palsy is cause by trauma to nerves at the base of the neck and shoulder. This nerve damage causes total or partial paralysis of the arm. Damage to this nerve junction is caused by excessive traction or improper technique during a vaginal delivery.
- Cephalohematoma – bleeding just outside the baby’s skull which often appears as a raised bump several hours after birth. This can occur when physicians improperly use birth assisting tools.
Establishing Liability in North Carolina Birth Injury Lawsuits
Proving negligence in a North Carolina birth injury lawsuit involves establishing four key elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care: The family’s lawyer must demonstrate that the healthcare professional or hospital owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. This is usually not a litigated issue in birth injury lawsuits in North Carolina, as the existence of a doctor-patient relationship inherently establishes this duty.
Breach of Duty: The plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant breached the duty of care. This can be substantiated by showing that the medical professional’s actions or omissions deviated from the standard of care. This is the usual battleground in a birth injury lawsuit – did the doctor do or fail to do something that a reasonable doctor would have done?
Causation: It’s crucial to prove a direct link between the breach of duty and the injury. You have to marry the negligence with the harm caused to the child. Defendants who have a hard time providing they did not breach the standard of care often argue that it was not the doctor’s mistake that caused the child’s birth injuries. So a North Carolina birth injury attorney must show that the injury would not have occurred if the healthcare professional had not breached their duty of care.
Damages: The plaintiff must demonstrate that the breach of duty resulted in damages or losses. These damages can be physical (like a birth injury), financial (medical expenses), or emotional (pain and suffering).
Statute of Limitations in North Carolina Birth Injury Lawsuits
In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for birth injury lawsuits is generally three years from the date of injury. However, if the injury is not immediately apparent, the clock starts ticking when the injury is or should have been discovered, often known as the “discovery rule.”
The North Carolina General Statute § 1-17 includes three pertinent subsections. Subsection (a) offers a general tolling clause, granting individuals facing a disability when the cause of action arises the right to initiate a lawsuit within three years after the disability ceases. This section considers any person below the age of 18 as facing a disability. This is outlined in § 1-17(a)(1). Subsection (b) pertains to professional negligence lawsuits if the plaintiff is a minor. Meanwhile, according to subsection (c), a plaintiff who is over the age of seven when the cause of action for medical negligence arises does not receive any extension to the statute of limitations.
Subsection (b) is on point for birth injury lawsuits in North Carolina: “Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, and except as otherwise provided in subsection (c) of this section, an action on behalf of a minor for malpractice arising out of the performance of or failure to perform professional services shall be commenced within the limitations of time specified in G.S. 1-15(c), except that if those time limitations expire before the minor attains the full age of 19 years, the action may be brought before the minor attains the full age of 19 years.”
So a victim has until they are 19 to bring a birth injury lawsuit in North Carolina? Not so fast. Subsection (c) is a more specific and recent addition to the law. This section pertains to a subset of claims that are also applicable under § 1-17(b), specifically those related to medical malpractice, as opposed to more general professional negligence. Despite the provisions in subsections (a) and (b), subsection (c) states that the typical § 1-15(c) statute of limitations is applicable in a medical malpractice action involving a minor. However, if the statute of limitations lapses before the minor turns ten, then the statute is extended only until the minor reaches their tenth birthday.
Birth Injury Cap on Damages
Like many other states, North Carolina frustrates victims by placing a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases. As of 2023, this cap is set at just over $656,730. It is adjusted periodically for inflation. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.
However, there’s no cap on economic damages, which cover quantifiable losses like medical expenses, therapy costs, and loss of future earnings, the key ingredients in birth injury lawsuits.
Medical Negligence in North Carolina Birth Injury Cases
Most birth injuries are caused by negligence on the part of the health providers handling the labor and delivery. The most common types of medical negligence alleged in North Carolina birth injury cases are described below.
Fetal Monitoring Negligence Electronic fetal monitoring devices provide doctors and the delivery team early warnings when the baby is under stress. When carefully monitored and properly responded to, these devices can help prevent many birth injuries. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen. Many obstetrical negligence lawsuits involve allegations that the delivery team failed to monitor the fetal heart rate or ignored warning indicators.
C-Section Failure: A prompt emergency C-section can often be used to prevent birth injuries when complications arise during delivery. Accordingly, negligent failure or delay in performing a C-section delivery is the most common theory of medical negligence asserted in birth injury cases. This is a commonly filed birth injury lawsuit in North Carolina.
Vacuum and Forceps Errors Obstetrical forceps and vacuum pump extractors are tools that OB/GYNs sometimes use to help grip the baby’s head and maneuver it out and through the birth canal. These devices are used in difficult vaginal deliveries in which the baby is stuck or not progressing through the birth canal normally. The problem with these tools is that they require a high degree of skill and technique. If the doctor does not use them carefully and correctly, these tools can easily cause serious injuries to the baby.
Failure to Diagnose: There are a number of known obstetric complications that can pose a serious threat to the health of the baby. Doctors are supposed to be able to timely and accurately diagnose these complications and then properly handle and manage them so as to avoid injury to the baby. When doctors fail to diagnose complications or mishandle them it can result in birth injuries. Complications that can result in birth injuries if not properly diagnosed and managed include prolapsed umbilical cord, fetal macrosomia, and preeclampsia.
North Carolina Birth Injury Settlement Amounts
The settlement amount of a birth injury lawsuit in North Carolina or any other jurisdiction depends on a variety of factors.
The biggest factor driving settlement amounts of North Carolina birth injury lawsuits is whether you can win the lawsuit. If you are unlikely to win, you are unlikely to receive a significant settlement amount. The value of any birth injury claim with be reduced by the percentage chance of a defense verdict. So if you have a 50-50 chance of winning, your settlement amount will unlikely be more than half of your estimated damages.
When calculating damages, there are five key elements:
- Medical Expenses: This includes both past and future costs associated with the birth injury. It can include the cost of surgeries, medication, therapy, medical equipment, and any other medical care necessary. Future medical expenses are usually the driving force here because it is expenses over the child’s entire life.
- Non-Medical Expenses: These can include costs such as home modifications to accommodate the child’s disability, or special education and care expenses.
- Pain and Suffering: With the low cap on damages for a North Carolina birth injury lawsuit, this is the easiest number to calculate. It is hard to conjure up a birth injury lawsuit that has less damages that $650,000.
- Lost Earning Capacity: If the birth injury will prevent the child from earning a living in the future, this can also be factored into the settlement amount. This number will often be in the millions.
- Life Care Costs: This includes the cost of long-term care and services that the child may need throughout their lifetime due to their injury. This number will often be in the tens of millions in serious birth injury lawsuits.
In North Carolina, the calculation of these damages can be complicated due to state laws that may limit certain types of damages. Furthermore, North Carolina follows the contributory negligence rule, which could potentially bar recovery if the plaintiff is found to be even slightly at fault.
Determining the value of a birth injury lawsuit can be complex and should be done with the help of an experienced birth injury attorney who can fully understand the extent of the damages and navigate the specific laws and regulations in North Carolina.
North Carolina Birth Injury Verdicts and Settlements
- $10,000,000 Settlement: A female infant with a prolapsed umbilical cord, reportedly was allowed to remain in fetal distress at a military hospital for 53 minutes, leading to birth injuries consisting of anoxic brain damage, and spastic cerebral palsy, congenital quadriplegia and cortical blindness. He lawsuit claimed that the defendants failed to respond appropriately to fetal heart rate decelerations and failed to have an experienced, properly trained doctor available to manage a high risk delivery.
- $162,792 Verdict: A female infant suffered moderate brain damage, hypotonic cerebral palsy, and a seizure disorder during her vaginal delivery assisted by the female codefendant physician at the defendant hospital. The family hired a North Carolina birth injury lawyer who contended contended that the defendants failed to provide adequate prenatal monitoring, negligently attempted to extract the plaintiff with the use of forceps, failed to perform a cesarean section, and failed to provide the proper standard of care.
- $4,000,000 Mediation: An infant suffered cerebral palsy while in the care of the defendant physician after the infant’s birth. The plaintiff’s parents contended that the defendant failed to treat the plaintiff’s severe jaundiced condition, which resulted in neurological problems, and failed to provide the proper standard of care.
- $5,560,000 Settlement: An infant suffered brain damage and cerebral palsy due to perinatal asphyxia and experiencing seizures after a birth attempted by the defendant obstetrician. The plaintiff contended that the defendant was negligent, failed to timely deliver the child, that she did not have the necessary knowledge, skill or experience to perform the cesarean since the baby’s head was wedged in the pelvis.
- $10,750,000 Settlement: A female infant suffered a severe brain injury and cerebral palsy at the time of her birth when she was delivered by forceps and vacuum extraction by the defendant doctor at the co-defendant medical facility. The plaintiff contended that the defendant failed to properly monitor her condition, that he failed to promptly deliver her and that the co-defendant failed to warn the defendant of the plaintiff’s symptoms of fetal distress, resulting in her injuries.
- $2,000,000 Settlement: A female infant suffered injuries resulting in a severe mental deficiency, cerebral palsy and a seizure disorder at the time of her birth when the defendant pediatrician failed to resuscitate her after her mother’s C-section. Her family hired a North Carolina birth injury attorney who filed a lawsuit alleging the defendant should have known that the infant would require resuscitation and further contended that the defendant failed to provide the standard of care and failed to give proper attention and treatment.
Contact Miller & Zois About North Carolina Birth Injury Cases
Contact Miller & Zois today for a free consultation about potential birth injury malpractice cases in North Carolina. Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.