The term “birth injury” generally refers to a physical injury suffered by a baby during the process of childbirth. A very high percentage of birth injuries are caused by negligent medical care during the labor and delivery process. Hundreds of birth injuries occur from medical negligence in hospitals across Pennsylvania every year. The good news is that Pennsylvania law offers the parents of injured children the opportunity to seek financial compensation. This page will look at the most common categories of birth injuries in Pennsylvania, 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 the name for a specific juncture point in the nervous system that is located where the shoulder meets with the neck. This important nerve junction is tasked with transmitting 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.
Over stretching or excessive force during delivery can cause physical damage to the brachial plexus nerves during birth. Brachial plexus damage is one of the most common of all types of 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 include things like broken bones, lacerations, bruises, and various other types of external physical trauma suffered during birth. These type 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 serous, 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 have tendency to get lodged behind the mother’s pelvic bone during birth. You don’t see many malpractice lawsuits because this injury is not serious. A fractured skull during childbirth in another story. This complication is called shoulder dystocia. Clavicle fractures often occur when the doctor does not use 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 in order 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 certain 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. There are certain types of medical negligence that 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 schedule a planned C-section to avoid 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 give doctors advance warning of possible complications and the chance to intervene with an emergency C-section. Unfortunately, these devices tend to give many false positive warnings and many doctors tend to ignore warning indicators until it’s too late.
- Forceps / Vacuum Negligence: vacuum extractors and obstetrical forceps are tools designed to grip the head of baby to facilitate delivery. OB/GYNs sometimes use these tools to assist with a difficult vaginal delivery. These instruments require a very high level of skill and care by the doctor. There is a very small margin for error and small mistakes in using these tools can frequently lead to birth injuries.
Pennsylvania Birth Injury Verdicts and Settlements
Summarized below are reported settlements and verdicts from recent Pennsylvania birth injury malpractice cases.
$182,700,000 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2023): doctors and hospital negligently delay a c-section despite being aware that 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): 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): lawsuit claimed that negligence during delivery resulted in baby suffering HIE brain injury from lack of oxygen, which reportedly caused him to develop ODD and ADHD. That lawsuit alleged that the defendant were too slow in ordering an emergency C-seciton.
$437,500 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2020): lawsuit alleged that stillbirth of 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 vacuum and baby suffered fractured arm and damage to her brachial plexus resulting in Erb’s Palsy. The lawsuit claimed that the hospital staff failed to properly handle the shoulder dystocia.
$3,500,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2019): 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 serious 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 be the result of medical negligence, calls us at 800-553-8082.