Birth injuries to both babies and mothers, as a result of a failure in duty care, can lead to long term conditions, illnesses, and psychiatric disorders.
How do birth injuries happen?
Although healthcare professionals are trained to the highest standards, mistakes can sometimes happen. This might be down to an error in judgement, misunderstanding instructions, delay in diagnosis, delayed treatment, a lack of attention, administering the wrong medication, or another oversight that puts you and your baby at risk.
If it can be proved that a healthcare professional or institution has performed its duty without due care, there could be case for medical negligence.
How common are birth injuries?
Fortunately, the majority of childbirths go smoothly, with birth injuries that lead to further complications or ongoing conditions being relatively uncommon.
Do birth injuries only affect the child?
No. There are a number of problems that can arise during a mishandled childbirth that might lead to ongoing problems for the mother.
What are common birth injuries?
There is a range of possible injuries, conditions and illnesses that can occur as a result of substandard care during childbirth.
Most common among these are:
- Cerebral Palsy (CP) – Resulting from brain damage during birth, this neurological disorder affects your child's motor skills, leading to physical impairment that can manifest in a number of ways. It might affect the legs, arms or face, causing problems with walking, general movement or even resulting in severe disability that requires lifelong care.
Although incurable, Cerebral Palsy is not considered to be life threatening – except in the most profound cases – and can be managed with a variety of techniques, such as physiotherapy, medication and technology.
- Erb's Palsy – Unlike CP, Erb's Palsy isn't related to the brain, but is a physical disorder which affects the nerves in your child's shoulders. Also referred to as Obstetric Brachial Plexus injury (OBPi) it can be caused by a trauma during birth and results in loss of feeling, weakness and in more severe cases paralysis in the affected arm(s).
It is possible for a baby to recover from Erb's Palsy, although this isn't guaranteed and for many it will be a lifelong condition that requires a variety of treatments and therapies to make it more manageable.
- Klumpke's Palsy – Another form of Brachial Plexus, Klumpke's Palsy is also a physical condition that damages the nerves in the arm, this time affecting the forearm and hand and restricting their movement.
Once again, the major cause is a trauma during childbirth, such as your baby's shoulder becoming snagged upon the pubic bone, and although the nerve damage can heal on its own, surgery and further therapy is often required to correct and treat it.
- Perineal tears – Perineal tears affect the mother and, due to the levels of stress the human body undergoes during childbirth, are quite common. The severity of the tear is graded in degrees (1st through to 4th), with 1st degree tears rarely leading to further complications, while 4th degree tears are more significant and require quick and specialist treatment.
Failure to recognise and correctly deal with the more serious degree of tear can lead to severe pain and further detrimental side effects including psychological problems.
- Retained products of conception – A retained product of conception can mean any form of tissue that is left in the uterus following a birth or as a result of a miscarriage. This can cause internal bleeding and an increased risk of infection.
- Nervous shock – Ranging from psychiatric damage to mental illness, nervous shock can sometimes affect mothers who have experienced a particularly traumatic and badly conducted birth.
In cases where a partner or family member witnessed the poor standard of care and has suffered as a result of its consequences, they too may able to claim for medical negligence as a 'secondary victim'.
- Stillbirth – A stillborn baby is one that dies after the 24th week of pregnancy, either in the womb or in the uterus. This can be for a number of reasons, including infections, birthing trauma, pre-eclampsia and prematurity.
Can I claim for a birth injury?
If you or your child has suffered a birth injury that is shown to be as a result of medical negligence, you could be entitled to make a claim for compensation. To qualify, the medical care you received must have fallen below an acceptable standard and been the direct cause of the injury.
How long will a birth injury claim take?
Birth injury claims can be complex cases, which rely on a number of independent experts to carry out a thorough investigation. As such, the process can take a long time to reach a final settlement.
Is there a time limit for birth injury claims?
If you are a mother affected by issues related to birth injuries, there is a 3 year limit in which to make your claim. This is effective either from the date of when the medical negligence took place or from when your injury or its adverse effects were discovered.
Where your child is concerned, you have until their 18th birthday to make a claim on their behalf. After this, it is up to the child to make the claim in their own name. Your child has until the age of 21 to do so. If they lack the 'capacity' to handle their own affairs, the time limit isn't applicable.
If the birth injury claim is on behalf of an adult unable to handle their own affairs, once again the time limit doesn't count.
How much is a birth injury claim worth?
The level of compensation awarded depends upon the severity of the individual case and the degree of medical negligence deemed to be responsible for it.
What do I do next?
If your child has suffered a birth injury because of a substandard level of care, or you yourself have been at the receiving end of medical negligence during pregnancy or childbirth, you should seek independent legal advice from an expert in the field.
Simpson Millar has the knowhow and the experience to ensure your claim is treated fairly and with sensitivity, so you get the compensation you are entitled to.