Common Causes of Birth Injuries

While the birth of a child is seen as a cause for celebration and a joyous occasion for the family, an infant who suffers a serious injury during or at the time of birth can have consequences that may be long-term and devastating for the child as well as his or her family. As New York City birth injury lawyers we have typically seen that they tend to be permanent with severe symptoms that span the child’s entire life.

biThere are a number of factors that cause or contribute to birth injuries. Sometimes, these factors have to do with lax care or negligence (carelessness) during the monitoring of the mother’s health. For example, when an infant suffers from oxygen deprivation, irreversible brain damage may occur. Also, infants who suffer brain damage during labor and delivery are more likely to endure lifelong neurological issues.

A large number of birth injuries are caused by medical negligence (carelessness) and are avoidable. If your child has been injured before, during or after birth due to medical negligence (carelessness), it is important that you seek the counsel of an experienced New York City personal injury lawyer to better understand your legal rights and options.

What Types of Injuries Occur at Birth?

There are a number of different types of injuries that infants may suffer during labor and delivery. This is particularly true in births that are long and difficult. Here are some of the most common birth injuries:

Head injuries: This includes scalp scratches that occur when instruments such as forceps or vacuum extractors are used during vaginal deliveries. Bleeding outside of the skull bones may lead to pooling of blood. Fracture of one of the skull bones may occur before or during the birth process. Bleeding in and around the brain, also known as intracranial hemorrhage is caused by the rupture of blood vessels.

Nerve injuries: These types of injuries may occur during delivery. Nerve injuries may also occur in different parts of the body and typically result in weariness of the muscles controlled by the affected nerve. Nerve injuries may involve the facial nerve, which is caused by pressure against the nerve due to the way the baby is positioned in the uterus before birth or because the nerve is being pressed against the mother’s pelvis during delivery. Facial nerves may also get injured if an obstetrician applies too much pressure while using birth assistive tools such as forceps to extricate the baby from the birth canal during a difficult birth.

The nerves of the brachial plexus may also become injured during birth and this type of injury results in a condition known as Erb’s Palsy and as brachial plexus palsy. The brachial plexus is a large group of nerves situated between the neck and shoulder leading to each arm. During a difficult delivery, one or both of the baby’s arms may be stretched or torn resulting in injuries to the nerves of the brachial plexus. This may cause weakness or paralysis of part or all of the child’s arm and hand.

Weakness of the shoulder and elbow is known as Erb’s palsy or brachial plexus palsy and weakness of the hand and wrist is known as Klumpke’s palsy. Roughly half of the cases of brachial plexus injuries are linked to difficult or prolonged labor, typically involving larger than average babies. During the birth, extreme movements at the shoulder by the doctor should be avoided to allow the nerves to heal.

In some cases, the phrenic nerve, which is the nerve going to the diaphragm may also become damaged resulting in paralysis of the diaphragm on the same side. In such cases, children have trouble breathing and may need long-term assistance with breathing. Spinal cord injuries may also occur due to overstretching during delivery. These injuries may result in paralysis below the site of the injury. Spinal cord damage is often permanent. Some other nerves such as the radial nerve in the arm or the sciatic nerve in the lower back may also be injured during delivery.

Bone injuries: The child’s bones may be broken or fractured during delivery. A fracture of the clavicle or collarbone can occur during delivery. Other types of fractures that may occur during birth include fractures of the upper arm bone, leg bone, and other multiple bones. Birth-assistive tools such as forceps can also injure the newborn’s skin.

Lack of oxygen supply: When the infant doesn’t receive the oxygen he or she needs, the situation can get extremely dangerous. Asphyxia refers to the decrease in oxygen in the baby’s blood before, during or just after delivery. Some common causes that give rise to lack of oxygen supply include placental abruption or the separation of the placenta from the uterus before delivery; obstruction of umbilical cord blood flow; severe maternal infection; and severe maternal hemorrhage. Newborns with asphyxia will likely have low oxygen levels, show poor color, have low blood pressure or even suffer seizures or go into a coma. When oxygen to the brain gets cut off, severe brain damage or even cerebral palsy may occur.

What Are the Causes of Birth Injuries?

There are a number of reasons why birth injuries occur. Here are some of the most common causes of birth injuries.

Improper Assessment of Risk Factors

There is no question that childbirth can be risky for both the mother and the baby. When severe birth injuries occur, it’s usually a combination of risk factors and lack of proper medical intervention by doctors and staff. Here are some risk factors associated with the fetus that increase the risk of a birth injury:

  • Prematurity: Babies who are born before 37 weeks are at a higher risk of birth injuries because they happen to be more fragile and don’t have strong defenses.
  • Larger than average baby: This is a condition known as macrosomia. If the baby is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis, there is a greater risk of prolonged labor and of injury.
  • Breech birth: Babies should be born head first in a vaginal birth. If they are in breech position or feet first, then, there is a greater risk of a birth injury.
  • Umbilical cord issues: Problems with the umbilical cord can cause the baby to be deprived of vital nutrients and oxygen in the womb.
  • Complications with the placenta: When the placenta is compromised, both the mother and baby may suffer. If the placenta detaches too early, for example, blood and oxygen supply to the fetus may get cut off.
  • Shoulder dystocia: When the baby’s shoulders get stuck at the mother’s pelvic bone, it may result in fetal distress, and Erb’s palsy, also known as brachial plexus palsy.
  • There are also several maternal risk factors that doctors must be able to identify:
  • Diabetes and obesity: If the mother is overweight, she is at risk for gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, which can cause fetal distress.
  • Pelvis shape: If the mother’s pelvis is too small to accommodate vaginal birth, then it may lead to prolonged labor and shoulder dystocia. Compression may even cause injury to the baby’s brain.
  • Maternal infection: Some bacterial and viral infections may be transmitted from the mother to the baby. Other infections may also be transmitted during the birthing process. Doctors should be testing the mother during pregnancy. Infections should be treated with antibiotics and other medications.

Improper Use of Forceps and Vacuum Extractors

Forceps and vacuum extractors are birth-assistive tools that can be used to apply traction to the baby’s head in order to aid its passage through the birth canal. Birthing forceps are shaped like a large pair of tongs and designed to fit around either side of the fetal skull. Informed consent should be sought by the doctor from the mother in labor before attempting to deliver a baby with forceps. It should be noted that forceps are associated with increased birth injuries to newborns as are vacuum extractors and medical instruments that can be used to help apply traction to the fetal head and aid in its passage through the birth canal.

Injuries occur especially when the obstetrician is inexperienced in these types of procedures. Forceps should only be used in extreme situations by obstetricians who are experienced. These devices are typically used when labor has stalled and pushing/contractions are not moving the baby through the birth canal. Forceps and vacuum extractors are also used when the baby is experiencing distress. Doctors should closely monitor the fetal heart rate to determine whether the baby is in distress.

When forceps and vacuum extractors are used improperly, incorrectly or incompetently, babies may suffer injuries including, but not limited to, brain damage, cerebral palsy, eye trauma, facial palsy, intracranial bleeding, fractures, spinal cord damage, etc.

Failure to Perform a Timely C-Section

A Cesarean section or C-section is surgery that is performed to deliver a baby when natural, vaginal birth may pose a danger to the mother and/or the baby. According to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, 32 percent of all births nationwide involved a C-section. This type of procedure should be performed when the doctor and the medical team know that a mother is at risk for certain complications if a natural childbirth is attempted. In such cases, it is best to schedule a C-section in order to avoid potential complications during the birth as well as any potential injury to the baby and mother.

On other occasions, a C-section is done as an emergency procedure because labor is not progressing. Some of the common indicators that a C-section might be required include fetal distress, maternal infection, twins, breech presentation, or uterine rupture. A C-section might also be required if the baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis or if there are other complications such as the umbilical cord being wrapped around the baby’s neck. Serious birth injuries can occur if a doctor fails to perform a timely C-section. Some of the common injuries include brain damage, shoulder dystocia, Erb’s palsy (brachial plexus palsy), cerebral palsy, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), etc.

Contacting an Experienced Lawyer

If your child has suffered 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. You may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, loss of earnings, cost of hospitalization, surgeries, rehabilitation, permanent injuries, disabilities, past and future pain and suffering, etc.

Our law firm helped a family secure 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 appeals court reduced the amount because the verdict was so large. Another client secured a $2,850,000 verdict in an arm injury case (Erb’s palsy) that was reduced by the appeals court to $1,846,000, again because the verdict was so large. This was the highest amount upheld by the appellate courts for many, many years. In addition we recovered $1,400,000 for a newborn who lost motion in the arm during birth due to the doctors applying incorrect force on the baby’s head.

In another case, our client obtained a $4,500,000 settlement where the doctor negligently used forceps to deliver a baby and cut the 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. Also, another of our clients got a verdict for $23,500,000 in a medical malpractice case.

We have seen many cases where New York City Health and Hospital Corporation hospitals deliver babies who are born with injuries stemming from negligence (carelessness) and/or medical malpractice in the labor and delivery etc. of the children. The following list identifies some of these hospitals (operated by New York City Health and Hospital Corporation):

  • Jacobi Hospital aka Bronx Municipal 1400 Pelham Parkway South Bronx, New York 10461 718-918-5000
  • Lincoln Hospital 234 East 149th Street Bronx, New York 10451 718-579-5000
  • North Central Bronx Hospital 3424 Kossuth Avenue Bronx, New York 10467 718-519-5000
  • Coney Island Hospital 2601 Ocean Parkway Brooklyn, New York 11235 718-616-3000
  • Kings County Hospital 451 Clarkson Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11203 718-245-3131 BIGGEST HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD
  • Woodhull Hospital 760 Broadway Brooklyn, New York 11206 718-963-8000
  • Bellevue Hospital 462 First Avenue New York, New York 10016 212-562-5555
  • Harlem Hospital 506 Lenox Avenue New York, New York 10037 212-939-1000
  • Metropolitan Hospital 1901 First Avenue New York, New York 10029 212-423-6262
  • Elmhurst Hospital 79-01 Broadway Elmhurst, New York 11373 718-334-4000
  • Queens Hospital Center 82-68 164th Street Jamaica, New York 11432 718-883-3000

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