Facial Paralysis Caused by Birth Trauma
Facial paralysis or facial nerve palsy is a birth injury that often occurs as a result of trauma during birth. It is essentially the loss of voluntary muscle movement in the child’s face due to pressure applied on the nerve at that location just before or at the time of birth. There are a number of factors that may lead to this type of birth injury, particularly when the labor is long and difficult. There are steps the doctor and medical staff can and should take in order to prevent these types of birth injuries that may result in permanent disfigurement and/or disability.
If your child suffered a birth injury as the result of medical negligence or incompetence on the part of your care provider etc., you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent parties who were involved. An experienced New York City birth injury lawyer will be able to advise you regarding your legal rights and options.
What is Facial Paralysis?
The terms “facial paralysis” or “facial palsy” (also known as infant Bell’s palsy) generally refer to the weakness of the facial muscles that occurs from temporary or permanent damage to the facial nerve. When a facial nerve is not working as it should, the muscles in the face don’t get the necessary signals to function properly. When this happens, there is paralysis of the affected part of the face, which may have an impact on the movement of the eyes, mouth and other areas of the face.
Facial paralysis may be partial or complete. In some cases, only the lower half of the face is affected and other times, the entire left side of the face is affected. Each nerve in the face begins at the brain and enters the front of the face where it branches out into five separate parts. These branches help the muscles of the face work, and these muscles are used to generate facial expression. The nerves in the face also control the production of tears, saliva and taste, among other things.
Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
While some forms of facial paralysis can be treated, there are cases where it may result in irreversible disfigurement of the face or even cause other issues such as partial or complete loss of sight. Some of the common symptoms of this condition include:
- Sudden paralysis of one side of the individual’s face making it difficult for him or her to smile, blink, frown or close the eye on the affected side
- Severe headaches
- Droop of the face and lack of ability to make facial expressions
- Excessive tearing up or drying of the eyes
- Loss of ability to taste
- Pain around the jaw or behind the ear on the affected side
- Drooling and slurred speech
- Hypersensitivity to sound in the affected ear, also known as hyperacusis
Facial paralysis is usually diagnosed based on the above symptoms. There are no specific tests that are used to diagnose facial nerve palsy. But, your healthcare provider may order some tests to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms or to determine the extent of nerve damage. These tests may include Electromyography or EMG that is used to determine the extent of nerve involvement. Blood tests may be ordered to determine if another condition such as diabetes or Lyme disease is present. Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI or a computer tomography (CT) scan may also be ordered.
There is no cure for this condition. While some patients may recover in a short period of time, others might suffer permanent damage. However, there are several treatment options for those suffering from facial paralysis:
Eye care: This is important because the eye on the affected side cannot be closed or moistened naturally by the individual’s tear ducts. The eyes of a child who has suffered facial paralysis may have to be kept moistened with artificial tears. It is also important to keep the eye free of dust, pollen and other debris that may scratch the cornea.
Medications: A number of facial paralysis cases particularly among infants may occur due to the child’s exposure to viral infections. Infants of mothers with infections such as shingles, chicken pox, influenza-B, German measles and hand-foot-and-mouth disease are at risk of developing facial nerve palsy. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medications to treat severe cases of Bell’s palsy, particularly when they suspect that a viral infection caused the facial paralysis. Doctors may also use corticosteroids to treat the effects of facial nerve palsy.
Surgery: In some cases, doctors may use surgery to relieve pressure on the facial nerve. A surgeon will get into the cavity that houses the facial nerve to ease the swelling and allow the nerve to heal. This is a risky procedure that may cause permanent hearing loss and/or nerve injury.
Physical therapy: In some cases, physical therapy may help keep the facial nerve stimulated and maintain muscle tone. This includes massaging and exercising the child’s facial muscles to prevent it from atrophying.
Common Causes of Facial Nerve Palsy
Facial paralysis occurs due to birth trauma or from medical negligence during labor and delivery. Here are some of the common factors involved:
Forceps or Vacuum delivery: When the labor is long and difficult, an obstetrician may use birth-assistive tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors to get a stuck infant out of the birth canal. However, when the doctor lacks the competence to use these tools or applies excessive force to get the baby out, the infant may suffer traumatic head injuries or facial injuries that damage the facial nerve. Doctors have an obligation to ensure that you and your child are safe during a forceps procedure. They are also required to inform you about the risks involved in such a procedure. Parents tend to mistakenly assume that they don’t have the choice regarding whether their doctor uses forceps to get the baby out. But that is not true. You have the choice when it comes to the type of medical procedure involved – and on any birth assistive tools that are used during labor and delivery. Discuss all your options with your doctor before you go into labor.
Maternal infections: When the mother suffers from infections such as viral infections or urinary tract infections, it should be promptly diagnosed and treated. A failure to properly diagnose or treat infections may result in the infant contracting these infections as well.
Long labor or pregnancy: When the mother goes over the due date or when a labor is long and difficult, there is a higher likelihood for birth injuries such as facial nerve damage to occur.
Induced labor: The use of the drug Pitocin to induce labor often causes stronger contractions, which puts the child at risk for injuries.
Use of epidural: An epidural is the pain-relieving shot many pregnant women opt to get when they are giving birth. It is an injection that goes into the epidural space, which is right outside the membrane that protects your spinal cord. However, the use of an epidural has been linked to some cases of facial paralysis.
Larger baby: A large baby, which is common among women with diabetes or women who deliver post-term, is another cause for a difficult labor and delivery, which may in turn lead to birth injuries such as facial paralysis.
Taking the Necessary Steps
When risk factors are present indicating a long or difficult labor, it is often in the mother and child’s best interest for the doctor to schedule a C-section and avoid complications, especially birth injuries that may result. Doctors must make prompt and timely decisions with regard to C-sections. Failing may do so may put mother and child at risk for serious injury, or in some cases, may even prove fatal for the infant.
Damages in a Birth Injury Case
When you suspect that your child’s facial paralysis has been caused by negligence on the part of the doctor or a member of the medical or hospital staff, it is important to consult an experienced New York birth injury lawyer who will examine the facts and details of what occurred and help you compile the evidence you need to substantiate your case. A birth injury case such as one involving facial paralysis is never simple or straightforward. These are complex medical malpractice cases that require a great deal of evidence gathering including medical records and the testimony of experts who can verify the exact nature of your child’s condition.
The value of your birth injury case often depends on the extent of trauma your child has sustained, the degree to which your child has been injured and whether he or she will require ongoing treatment and care such as physical therapy, rehabilitation, etc. If your child has suffered permanent injuries, disfigurement or disabilities as a result of the facial paralysis, the value of your birth injury is likely to be much higher.
Here are some of the common damages that may be recovered in a birth injury lawsuit:
Medical expenses: This includes all expenses relating to medical treatment such as hospital costs, medications, medical equipment, cost of surgery and other procedures, etc. You may be able to receive cost of future medical expenses as well. Your birth injury lawyer will be able to help you calculate these future treatment costs.
Rehabilitation and therapy costs: Victims of birth injuries often end up needing some form of therapy or rehabilitation. These types of recurring costs are usually not covered by health insurance and come out of pocket.
Permanent injuries and disabilities: Often, in birth injury cases including in facial paralysis cases, there is the possibility of the child becoming permanently disabled. This may include conditions such as facial disfigurement or partial or complete loss of vision. These types of injuries may have devastating effects on the child’s future.
Past and Future Pain and Suffering: In addition to causing physical pain and discomfort, a birth injury such as facial paralysis can also cause emotional distress particularly for the child’s parents who are dealing with a completely unexpected situation and for which they were in no way prepared. Birth injury lawsuits can also help secure compensation for physical pain and mental suffering endured by the victims and their family members.
Proving Medical Malpractice
In order to prove that medical negligence occurred, plaintiffs must show evidence that a doctor-patient relationship existed; that the medical professional in question acted in a manner that is careless, reckless or not in keeping with existing standards of care; that the injuries occurred as a result of such negligence; and that the injuries resulted in monetary and other noneconomic damages.
If your child has suffered facial paralysis or a birth injury as the result of medical negligence, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you.
One of our clients secured a $43,940,000 verdict for a child who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The hospital failed to diagnose fetal distress, which led to brain damage and cerebral palsy from lack of oxygen supply to the brain. The delay in diagnosing the fetal distress and ordering a C-section delivery caused the child’s condition. Defense attorneys argued that the child’s injuries were caused by premature birth and that the obstetrical care was appropriate. The $43,940,000 verdict was eventually reduced on appeal, because the verdict was so huge.
In another case, our client obtained a $4,500,000 settlement where the doctor negligently used forceps to deliver a baby cutting oxygen supply to the child’s brain. The infant suffered from cerebral palsy as a result. We were able to prove that a C-section should have been performed, which may have prevented the cerebral palsy from occurring.
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