When a child is injured during birthing due to medical negligence or errors, the physical and emotional toll on the child and family can be immense. Pursuing a birth injury lawsuit may be the only way for families to obtain the compensation needed to cover their child’s extensive medical bills, therapy costs, and other expenses that arise when caring for a child with lifelong disabilities. However, these cases are highly complex and require the expertise of an experienced birth injury lawyer. This article will provide an overview of 10 key things parents should know about birth injury lawsuits.
1. Understand Birth Injuries
Birth injuries are impairments that occur during labor and delivery due to medical errors or negligent actions, such as a doctor applying excessive force with forceps or failing to perform a C-section when needed.
They differ from birth defects that originate in the womb due to genetic or environmental factors. Common birth injuries include brachial plexus injuries, cerebral palsy, and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Recognizing whether your child’s condition qualifies as a birth injury is the first step toward determining if you have a case.
2. Choose the Right Lawyer
The intricacies and complexities of birth injury cases require the expertise of a very well-versed and experienced attorney, specifically in this area of medical malpractice law. A lawyer who dedicates their practice solely to birth injury litigation will have the specialized knowledge and resources to handle such a complex case in the best possible manner.
For severe injuries like cerebral palsy that require extensive, around-the-clock lifetime care, having a dedicated cerebral palsy lawyer is ideal. These attorneys understand the full scope of these children’s current and future needs and how to secure damages that will adequately provide for these needs. They know how to present the evidence and testimony necessary to value the case appropriately.
3. Acknowledge the Statute of Limitations
Each state has strict statutes of limitations that dictate the deadline for filing birth injury malpractice lawsuits. In most states, families have just a few years after the date of the child’s birth to take legal action. Some states provide even less time – you may only have to pursue a case until the child’s 3rd, 5th, or 6th birthday.
Once the statute of limitations expires, the right to file a claim may be permanently barred. An experienced birth injury lawyer can advise on the specific time limit that applies and ensure the case is prepared to meet that deadline. Losing the ability to pursue damages due to a missed deadline adds further tragedy to families already facing tremendous challenges.
4. The Lawsuit Process Takes Time
The path from filing a birth injury lawsuit to final resolution is often a long one that requires patience and perseverance from families. After a suit is filed, an extensive process of information gathering, review, and legal procedures must occur before a settlement or trial verdict can be reached.
Having realistic expectations about the time it takes to fully prepare and resolve a birth injury case helps families withstand the challenges of this difficult process. An experienced attorney can provide guidance on the typical timeline and explain what is happening at each phase of the case. Patience and staying focused on the ultimate goal is important.
5. Settlements Vary Widely
There is no standard or typical settlement amount in birth injury cases. The value of each case depends on the specific facts and circumstances, especially the severity of the injury, the child’s prognosis, and the anticipated medical and life care costs over the lifetime. With severe disabilities that require around-the-clock care, settlements often reach multi-million dollar levels out of necessity to provide for the child’s needs.
Since putting a dollar figure on a devastating birth injury is difficult, the focus should be on obtaining fair and full compensation. An experienced birth injury attorney can analyze the evidence and use past case outcomes to provide a valuation estimate and guide settlement negotiations.
6. Court Cases are Rare
Despite the long pre-trial process, most birth injury lawsuits ultimately end in a settlement agreement rather than going to a jury trial and court verdict. Settlements avoid the expense, uncertainty, and time of a lengthy trial, which encourages defendants to reach an agreement. Taking a case through trial is rare but does sometimes happen if the parties cannot agree on liability issues or damages amounts.
If a birth injury case does proceed to trial, having an attorney experienced in medical malpractice litigation and trial work becomes crucial. An attorney who has taken past cases to trial has invaluable experience presenting complex evidence and medical issues to jurors persuasively. The insights of a seasoned trial lawyer make a significant difference in the courtroom.
7. Hospitals are Common Defendants
While individual healthcare providers like an obstetrician, nurses, or midwives may be named defendants in a birth injury malpractice suit, the hospital is also nearly always a named defendant. As the overseeing institution responsible for policies, procedures, personnel, training, and the provision of equipment and resources, the hospital shares liability for negligent care.
Hospitals must ensure their facilities and staff provide adequate care that meets medical standards. Therefore, regardless of which specific doctor or nurse was allegedly negligent, the hospital is still legally responsible. For this reason, the hospital is almost always included alongside any individual defendants.
8. Government Immunity May Apply
If a birth injury occurred at a government-run hospital such as a military facility, VA hospital, public health clinic, or other facility, special rules of governmental immunity may apply that limit the ability to bring a malpractice case and recover damages successfully. Protections like damage caps, strict notice deadlines, or immunity from certain types of claims may come into play.
An attorney experienced in the complex rules surrounding claims against government entities is critical. They can analyze the case specifics to determine if a viable claim exists or if immunity statutes will impede the chance of success. While suits against government hospitals face more procedural hurdles, they can still potentially succeed with the right legal team. Experienced counsel makes all the difference.
The aftermath of a birth injury brings intense challenges for families. While a lawsuit cannot undo the damage, it can provide resources and accountability. By understanding the legal process, consulting an attorney early on, and focusing on the needs of the child, families can work to obtain fair compensation and justice through a birth injury claim. With knowledge and perseverance, justice is possible.