The term “birth injury” generally refers to a physical injury suffered by a baby during childbirth. A very high percentage of birth injuries are caused by negligent medical care during labor and delivery. Hundreds of birth injuries occur from medical negligence in Pennsylvania hospitals annually. The good news is that Pennsylvania law allows the parents of injured children to seek financial compensation. This page will look at Pennsylvania’s most common categories of birth injuries and (2) the types of medical negligence that cause them.
Common Types of Birth Injuries in Pennsylvania
Brachial Plexus Nerve Damage
The nervous system is how the human brain communicates with and controls the rest of the body through the transmission of electrical impulse signals. Nerve channels run throughout the body and connect to the brain. Damage to nerves in the body can disrupt the transmission of signals between the brain and the body.
The brachial plexus is a specific juncture point in the nervous system located where the shoulder meets with the neck. This vital nerve junction transmits the control signals from the brain to the arm and hand. The location of the brachial plexus makes it very vulnerable during vaginal childbirth because the base of the neck and the shoulder are frequently pulled and stretched during delivery.
Overstretching or excessive force during delivery can cause physical damage to the brachial plexus nerves during birth. Brachial plexus damage is among the most common of all birth injuries. When the brachial plexus is damaged during delivery, it can result in a condition known as Erb’s palsy. Erb’s palsy is a condition in which the baby’s arm is fully or partially paralyzed. The paralysis can sometimes be permanent.
Bone Fractures and Physical Trauma
Another common category of birth injury in Pennsylvania is orthopedic and/or physical trauma injuries. This includes broken bones, lacerations, bruises, and other external physical trauma suffered during birth. These types of injuries are usually the result of excessive force during delivery as the baby is pulled through the narrow birth canal. Improper technique or excessive lateral traction during a difficult delivery is usually involved. The two most common injuries within this category are:
- Caput Succedaneum: caput succedaneum is the medical term for a particular type of swelling in the head or scalp of a newborn resulting from high external pressure on the baby’s head during a long delivery. By itself, caput succedaneum is not severe, but it can lead to complications.
- Fractured Bones: the most common type of orthopedic birth injury seen in Pennsylvania hospitals is a clavicle (collar bone) fracture. The baby’s shoulders are the widest point of the body, so they tend to get lodged behind the mother’s pelvic bone during birth. You don’t see many malpractice lawsuits because this injury is not severe. A fractured skull during childbirth in another story. This complication is called shoulder dystocia. Clavicle fractures often occur when the doctor does not use the proper technique or panics in response to this complication.
The temporary loss of oxygen to the bay during labor and delivery can cause brain injuries. The brain demands a continuous flow of oxygenated blood to survive. If this supply of oxygen is cut or restricted for longer than a minute, cells in the brain will die. During labor and delivery, the delivery of oxygen to the baby’s brain is vulnerable to interruption. Oxygen deprivation during childbirth causes permanent brain damage that can result in specific disabilities. The most common birth injury caused by brain damage is cerebral palsy.
Common Medical Errors Resulting in Birth Injuries
Some birth injuries are unavoidable, even with the most diligent medical care. However, approximately 30-40% of birth injuries in Pennsylvania are preventable and can be directly attributed to negligence on the part of the delivery team. Certain types of medical negligence repeatedly cause birth injuries in Pennsylvania.
- Delay or Failure to Perform C-section: many birth injuries can be entirely avoided by performing an emergency C-section (or scheduling a C-section in advance). In Pennsylvania, the standard of care requires OB/GYNs to anticipate complications and schedule a planned C-section to avoid the risk of injury to the baby. Failure to plan a C-section or delay in ordering an emergency C-section during delivery is by far the most common type of birth injury malpractice in Pennsylvania.
- Negligent Monitoring: when properly monitored and interpreted, electronic fetal monitoring devices warn doctors of possible complications and the chance to intervene with an emergency C-section. Unfortunately, these devices give many false positive warnings, and many doctors ignore warning indicators until it’s too late.
- Forceps / Vacuum Negligence: vacuum extractors and obstetrical forceps are tools designed to grip the head of the baby to facilitate delivery. OB/GYNs sometimes use these tools to assist with a complicated vaginal delivery. These instruments require a very high level of skill and care by the doctor. There is a tiny margin for error; small mistakes in using these tools can frequently lead to birth injuries.
Pennsylvania Birth Injury Verdicts and Settlements
The reported settlements and verdicts from recent Pennsylvania birth injury malpractice cases are summarized below.
- $16,000,000 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2023): During a high-risk pregnancy complicated by issues including gestational diabetes, a couple experienced the stillbirth of their child and subsequently alleged that the wife’s obstetricians’ negligence was responsible. The wife had sought medical attention multiple times leading up to the stillbirth, and on one occasion, tests detected fetal issues, but no further evaluations were conducted. A Beaver County jury awarded the couple $16 million. Beaver County is considered a conservative jurisdiction where malpractice verdicts are tough. But our malpractice lawyers believe a good case is a good case anywhere.
- $8,000,000 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2023): Mother suffered internal bleeding following a C-section, had an emergency hysterectomy, and suffered cardiac arrest. A Montgomery County jury determined the obstetrician’s negligence and awarded the couple $5.5 million for pain and suffering and $2.5 million for the loss of society, comfort, and companionship.
- $182,700,000 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2023): Doctors and the hospital negligently delayed a c-section despite being aware that the mother had a chorioamnionitis infection. As a result, the baby suffers HIE brain damage and is diagnosed with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
- $800,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2022): A baby allegedly suffers facial disfigurements, cranial nerve palsy, peripheral nerve injuries, and left eye injuries due to the doctor’s negligent use of forceps during delivery. The case settled for $800,000.
- $995,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2021): A birth injury lawsuit claimed that negligence during delivery resulted in the baby suffering HIE brain injury from lack of oxygen, which reportedly caused him to develop ODD and ADHD. That lawsuit alleged that the defendant was too slow in ordering an emergency C-section.
- $437,500 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2020): The lawsuit alleged that the stillbirth of a child was the result of negligence by the defendants in failing to properly diagnose and treat the mother’s facial disfigurements, cranial nerve palsy, peripheral nerve injuries, and left eye injuries.
- $850,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2020): shoulder dystocia during delivery prompted doctors to use a vacuum, and the baby suffered a fractured arm and damage to her brachial plexus, resulting in Erb’s Palsy. The lawsuit claimed that the hospital staff failed to properly handle shoulder dystocia.
- $3,500,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2019): A mother with preeclampsia and gestational diabetes experienced placental abruption during labor. The child was delivered by emergency C-section, but not until after he suffered loss of oxygen and severe brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy.
Contact Us About Pennsylvania Birth Injury Claims
Our birth injury lawyers have a long track record of delivering effective, meaningful results to our clients. If your new baby has a birth injury and you think it might result from medical negligence, call us at 800-553-8082.