This page will look at medical malpractice cases involving birth injuries in Washington state. We will review the key points of Washington tort law and examine the settlement value of Washington 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 Birth Injuries
- Cerebral Palsy: cerebral palsy is a muscle movement disability that occurs when the brain is not able to coordinate the normal movement of muscles in the body. Cerebral palsy is one of the most serious types of birth injuries and it is caused by damage to the baby’s brain from oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery.
- Brain Injuries – If the baby’s oxygen supply is cut off or restricted at any point during labor and delivery it can quickly cause permanent brain damage. Various complications during delivery can disrupt the flow of oxygen from mother to baby such as umbilical cord issues, and/or allowing the baby to remain too long in the birth canal. Diligent monitoring of the baby’s heart rate by the delivery team can prevent this.
- Erb’s Palsy – Erb’s palsy is cause by trauma to the brachial plexus nerve junction at the base of the neck resulting in total or partial paralysis of the arm. Damage to this nerve junction occurs when the doctor pulls too hard or with 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.
Washington Statute of Limitations for Birth Injury Lawsuits
In Washington, medical malpractice claims must be filed within 3-years of the alleged malpractice, or within 1-year of when the injury is “discovered” or reasonably should have been discovered. Rev. Code Wash. § 4.16.350.
In birth injury cases, both the parents and the injury child can bring their own separate malpractice claims against the doctor or hospital. Parents can sue to get compensation for the expense of raising the injured child. The injury child can sue for pain and suffering and any future medical expenses or lost wages after they turn 18. The application of Washington’s statute of limitations will vary depending on whether the claims are brought by the parents or the child.
SOL for Parent Claims: if the parents of an injured child bring their own separate claims in birth injury case, the general 3-year statute of limitations will apply. In most cases, the 3-year period will begin to run from the date of birth. If the birth injury is not discovered until later, the parents will have 1-year from the date of discovery.
SOL for Child Claims: the separate claims brought on behalf of the injured child are also subject to the 3-year statute of limitations. However, that 3-year period does not begin to run until the child turns 18. This effectively means that the child has until their 21st birthday to bring a birth injury case.
Before December 2023, there was a statute of repose in medical malpractice lawsuits in Washington. The statute stipulated that medical malpractice lawsuits must be initiated within eight years of the alleged negligence. But the Washington Supreme Court concluded that the medical malpractice statute of repose violates the privileges and immunities clause of the Washington Constitution because it does not provide a valid reason for its enactment. This ruling indicates that the eight-year limitation does not equitably apply to all citizens and lacks reasonable grounding, especially considering exceptions and tolling provisions within the statute.
Proving a Washington Birth Injury Case
All plaintiffs in Washington birth injury malpractice cases will need to prove 3 basic elements to establish their claim:
- The plaintiff will need show what the standard of medical care was, or what should have been done by the delivery team under the circumstances.
- The plaintiff must show that the defendants were negligent in failing to meet the applicable standard of care.
- The plaintiff must show that the birth injury was directly caused by the negligent medical care.
Establishing these elements in Washington requires expert testimony from a qualified expert.
Medical Negligence in Birth Injury Cases
Most birth injuries are caused by negligent care by the doctors, nurses, and/or hospital staff handling the labor and delivery. The most common types of medical negligence alleged in birth injury cases are described below.
Failure to Perform a C-Section: A timely 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.
Fetal Monitoring Negligence Fetal monitoring technology is designed to give doctors and the delivery team early warnings when the baby is in danger. If these devices are diligently monitored and properly responded to, they can prevent birth injuries. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Many birth injury cases involve allegations that the delivery team failed to monitor the fetal heart rate or ignored warning indicators.
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.
Damages for Birth Injuries in Washington
Under Washington law, both the injured child and the parents or legal guardians can seek compensation for a birth injury in the form of damages. Washington law does not have any maximum limits or caps on the damages that can be recovered in birth injury medical malpractice cases. The categories of recoverable damages in a Minnesota birth injury case include:
- Economic Damages: economic damages include all past and future medical expenses related to the birth injury, as well as lost future earnings or reduced earnings capacity if the injury leaves the child unable to maintain normal employment as an adult. This can be a big category of damages in birth injury cases involving serious, lifelong injuries like cerebral palsy.
- Non-economic Damages: non-economic damages basically refers to damages for mental pain & suffering caused by the birth injury. Both the child and the parents can get damages for pain and suffering.
Washington Birth Injury Verdicts and Settlements
$4,248,208 Verdict (King County): Pregnant woman with a known history of placental abruption and other complications was admitted to Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, Washington for delivery. The nurses and delivery team at the hospital negligently failed to treat her as high risk and failed to properly interpret signs of fetal distress on the monitoring devices. As a result, the baby suffered loss of oxygen resulting cerebral palsy.
$450,000 Settlement (Yakima County): Delivery team left pregnant mother unattended and negligently failed to watch the fetal monitoring devices as the baby’s heart rates got very concerning. They were eventually alerted by the husband but by the time they finally responded with an emergency c-section it was too late and the baby died from loss of oxygen.
$2,580,000 Verdict (King County): Baby suffered damage to her brachial plexus nerve during delivery in which the doctor used a vacuum to assist with delivery. Injury left the baby with very limited use of her left arm. Lawsuit alleged that the injury was the result of the doctor’s negligence in using the vacuum extractor.
Contact Miller & Zois About Washington Birth Injury Cases
Contact Miller & Zois today for a free consultation about potential birth injury malpractice cases in Washington. Call us at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.