Injury During Child Birth
If a mother or baby sustains an injury during child birth, and this injury has been caused or exacerbated by substandard medical care, there could be grounds for a claim. Medical negligence claims are a complex area of the law. You must therefore seek expert legal advice from a professional.
At Gibson & Associates, we specialise in medical negligence claims and can explain what your options are. If you have grounds for a claim, we will manage the process on your behalf, getting the compensation you deserve.
Injuries during child birth
Injuries during child birth can and do happen. Sometimes, these are unavoidable. Despite the advances in medical care, the fact remains that child birth still poses certain risks. Both the mother and the baby are put under considerable strain, and it’s unsurprising that sometimes, not everything goes to plan.
During a difficult birth, doctors and midwives should manage the situation in order to achieve the best possible outcome. For example, the baby may be showing signs of foetal distress during a long labour. This cannot necessarily be predicted or prevented. But what medical practitioners can do is to monitor the issue and take immediate action, should the situation worsen.
Can medical practitioners be blamed for birth injuries?
But what if medical practitioners fail to take action in the above scenario? What if a baby is showing signs of distress, but doctors decide to proceed with a vaginal delivery, even though this could harm the child? Does this amount to medical negligence?
The answer is: yes, medical practitioners can certainly be held responsible for mistakes that are made before, during and after child birth. While it is true that giving birth is not always straightforward, doctors and midwives cannot blindly rely on the excuse that child birth inevitably carries risks. Medical practitioners must provide a reasonable standard of care. If the standard of care falls short, and this results in injuries that could otherwise have been avoided, then it will amount to medical negligence.
Making a claim for birth injuries
Medical negligence falls under the scope of personal injury law. The basic rule of personal injury law is that if you suffer an injury because of someone else’s negligence, then you are entitled to compensation for your damages.
More specifically, medical negligence claims arise because all medical professionals – including doctors, nurses and midwives – owe their patients a duty of care. This is a legal obligation to provide a reasonable standard of care.
A ‘reasonable standard’ means that other competent medical practitioners operating in the same area of medicine would have acted in the same way. So, imagine that a mother sustains a perineal tear during child birth and this is not diagnosed by a midwife. The question that must be asked is whether another competent midwife would also have made the same mistake. If not, then the treating midwife has failed to meet his/her duty of care.
However, it is not enough for there to have been a breach of duty of care. This breach must actually have caused some kind of injury, whether to the mother or the baby. Using the above example, it is possible that a missed perineal tear will lead to faecal incontinence for the mother. Therefore, the midwife’s mistake has caused an injury that could otherwise have been avoided, paving the way for a medical negligence claim.
Can I claim for a birth injury?
Medical negligence is a complicated area of law. It is not always easy to understand whether you have been the victim of medical negligence. It can be difficult to find the answers you are looking for, particularly when you are trying to manage the arrival – or potentially the loss – of a new baby. That is why if you have suffered harm before, during or after child birth, we urge you to seek advice from our solicitors straightaway. We can say whether you have been the victim of medical negligence. It is very unlikely that you will get this kind of admission from the hospital or medical professional in question, both of which are typically unwilling to accept blame.
If substandard medical care has injured you or your baby, you will be in a position to make a medical negligence claim. You do not have to pursue this path if you do not want to. The option is entirely yours. Even if you clearly have grounds for a claim, you might not feel physically or emotionally prepared for legal action. Lots of women, however, find some form of closure by making a birth injury claim. It enables them to find out what went wrong and why. It also provides a sense of justice, as other medical experts will acknowledge that errors were made, and that this could have resulted in a different outcome.
Compensation for a birth injury
If your birth injury claim is successful, you will be awarded compensation for the damages that have been incurred. Of course, this can never turn back the clock and give you the birth experience that you wanted. But it can give you the financial support needed to manage your injuries, or those sustained by your child.
A compensation settlement consists of two different types of award. The first is an award for the physical and emotional injuries that have occurred. Physical injuries can include the pain, loss of function or other symptoms that have arisen because of the injury. There might also be a significant award for the emotional harm that has been caused. This tends to get overlooked, but a negative birth experience can lead to depression, anxiety and PTSD. And as we discovered in a recent survey, new mothers rarely get the mental health support they need. We asked 500 women about their birth experience, and 49% said they did not receive sufficient mental health support. In addition, 39% said they were not given enough information on post-birth recovery.
The second type of award is given for your financial losses, and potentially those of your partner. This includes both past and future financial losses, such as earnings, bonuses and pensions. It can also cover the cost of care, treatment and rehabilitation. This can be extremely expensive, especially in cases where a baby has suffered long-term, life-altering injuries.
How often do birth injuries happen?
If you or your baby has suffered a birth injury, then you’re not alone. Although birth injuries are not common, they do affect families up and down the country every year. The Irish Maternity Indicator System (IMIS) issues an annual national report. This provides a useful insight into just how many obstetric injuries take place. The report published in June 2019 shows that in 2018 there were:
- 6 maternal deaths
- 293 peri-natal deaths (meaning a stillbirth or death during the first seven days of life), of which 56 did not have a congenital abnormality
- 99 babies born with neonatal encephalopathy
- 63 babies born with brachial plexus palsy
- 84 cases of maternal bacteraemia (bacteria in the bloodstream)
- 30 cases of neonatal bacteraemia
- 21 cases of pre-eclampsia
- 11 cases of uterine rupture
- 20 cases of pulmonary embolism
- 611 perineal tears
- 4 retained swabs
- 3,521 primary postpartum haemorrhages
- 2 miscarriage misdiagnoses
- 5 cases of postpartum neuropathy
While some of these numbers are relatively low in comparison to the total number of births (61,084 in 2018), the human impact of each and every incident should not be forgotten. Six maternal deaths, for example, represents six families who have lost a mother, partner, daughter or sister.
That does not necessarily mean that medical negligence is a factor in every single birth injury listed above. But if it was, then the family is entitled to take legal action. This can never undo the terrible damage that has been done. But it can provide some financial relief. This will be especially important if one or both parents can no longer work, or if long-term care is required. Furthermore, it sheds light on any errors that were made, helping to improve care standards across the country. This prevents other families from having to suffer a similar fate.
Types of birth injury you can claim for
So, when might it be possible to make a birth injury claim? As we have already highlighted, a poor outcome or a difficult birth does not automatically amount to negligence. But there are certainly occasions when the standard of care falls to an unacceptable level, in turn harming the mother and/or the baby.
There are various ways in which a mis-managed pregnancy or birth can lead to an injury. Common types of birth injury to a mother include:
- Vaginal tears
- Post-partum haemorrhage
- Ruptured uterus
- Organ damage
- Episiotomy complications
Common types of birth injury to a baby include:
- Brachial plexus injury
- Hypoxic ischemic brain injury at birth (e.g., cerebral palsy)
- Anoxic brain injury at birth
There are other examples too. If you or your child has suffered harm, and you think medical errors are to blame, please get in touch with us at Gibson & Associates.
How can we help you?
We can say whether the medical care you receive before, during or after birth amounts to medical negligence – and if, by extension, you are entitled to pursue a birth injury claim. If so, we can manage the process on your behalf. Medical negligence claims are complex, so they are not dealt with by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB), as all other personal injury claims are in Ireland. You will therefore need an experienced solicitor to handle the claim for you.
We understand just how traumatic a birth injury is. The physical injuries can be difficult to live with, and the psychological injuries can be just as devastating. We cannot turn the clock back, but we can help you access the justice you and your family deserve.