Few accidents are as tragic as those involving medical mistakes that are made during the labor and delivery process. Families place unquestioned faith in the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals that assist with child birth. However, each year there are thousands of preventable Illinois birth injuries. Most birth injuries are the result of either a lack of oxygen, blunt trauma to the head or severe nerve damage. At the Chicago personal injury law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, we work with families who have experienced the tragedy of a birth injury to hold accountable the medical professionals responsible for the mistakes.
Birth Injury Statistics
Each year there are over 144,000 babies born in Illinois.
- Approximately 45,000 of these births involved Cesarean sections
- Approximately 15,000 of these births were considered preterm
- Over 12,000 of the babies were low birth weight
- Over 2,000 of the babies were very low birth weight
- Just 107,000 of the women were determined to have had adequate prenatal care
In 2018, there were approximately 65,000 babies born in Cook County, with just over 41,000 having adequate prenatal care.
Over the past decades, the rate of birth injuries has decreased, however, there are still between six and eight babies out of 1,000 are born with some type of birth injury.
There are approximately 28,000 serious birth injuries each year in the United States.
Most birth injuries occur during the second stage of labor, when the fetus descends through the birth canal.
Between 25 and 34 percent of women report that their births were traumatic, meaning the mother believed that her life or her baby’s life was in danger.
Experts estimate that up to nine percent of women suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth.
According to a government study, the rates of birth injuries were as follows for each type of hospital:
- Private, not-for-profit: 7.15 per 1,000 births
- Private, for-profit: 4.33 per 1,000 births
- Public: 6.11 per 1,000 births
Birth injuries tend to be less common in smaller hospitals.
- Hospitals with fewer than 100 beds: 5.36 birth injuries per 1,000 births
- Hospitals with 100 to 299 beds: 5.45 birth injuries per 1,000 births
- Hospitals with 300 to 499 beds: 8.57 birth injuries per 1,000 births
- Hospitals with 500 or more beds: 7.1 birth injuries per 1,000 births
Over one percent of all Cesarean section deliveries result in birth injury.
- Nearly seven percent of Cesarean deliveries involving a failed attempt to use forceps or a vacuum resulted in injury to the baby.
The most common types of birth injury during a Cesarean delivery are:
- Skin laceration
- Cephalohematoma (an accumulation of blood under the scalp)
- Fractured clavicle
- Brachial plexus injury
- Skull fracture
- Facial nerve palsy
Types of Birth Injuries
A birth injury occurs when an infant suffers trauma before, during or after the delivery process. Most Chicago birth injuries occur during the second phase of labor as a fetus descends through the birth canal. However, birth injuries can occur throughout all stages of labor. Medical professional break birth injuries down into several categories, the most common of which are injuries impacting the development of the brain, nerve-related injuries, and perinatal asphyxiation.
Brain and Head Injuries
Injuries affecting the brain or the head are the most common type of birth injury. Typically, these injuries involve physical trauma to the head, usually either through the natural birthing process or by the use of forceps or other tools used. Injuries related to the use of physical force during a delivery include:
- Swelling and bruising of the scalp
- Cephalohematoma (a localized accumulation of blood under the scalp)
- Subgaleal hemorrhage (unconfined bleeding under the scalp)
While these injuries can be very serious, or even fatal, the more immediately concerning injuries involve hematomas and hemorrhages. A hematoma is a collection of blood that forms outside of a blood vessel. Hematomas are similar to bruises; however, hematomas are much more serious. There are various hematomas that can occur during birth, however, one of the most common is an epidural hematoma. An epidural hematoma occurs when there is bleeding between the brain and the outer layer of tissue that covers the brain, and is often the result of a skull fracture. Epidural hematomas put additional pressure on the brain. Excess cranial pressure can cause a newborn baby to experience apnea or seizures.
A hemorrhage is the release of blood through a broken blood vessel. When doctors use tools to help extract a baby during a complicated delivery, there is a significant chance that the baby will suffer some level of physical trauma. When this occurs, there may be bleeding in several places in and around the brain. The following are among the various types of hemorrhages:
- Subdural hemorrhage: A subdural hemorrhage occurs when there is bleeding between the inner and outer layers of the brain. A subdural hemorrhage frequently places increased pressure on the brain, and may cause infants to suffer from seizures.
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage: A subarachnoid hemorrhage refers to bleeding between the innermost two membranes that cover the brain. Infants who suffer from subarachnoid hemorrhage may suffer from apnea or seizures for a few days, but many will make a full recovery.
- Intraventricular hemorrhage: An intraventricular hemorrhage occurs when blood enters fluid-filled spaces in the brain called ventricles.
Birth injuries affecting the head and brain are very often preventable. Doctors should be familiar with the tools needed to safely deliver babies. Those families who have a child that suffered fatal brain injuries or suffers from the ongoing symptoms of a brain-related birth injury should consult with an experienced Illinois medical malpractice attorney to discuss their situation.
Nerve related birth injuries are the second most common type of birth injury after head and brain trauma. Birth injuries affecting the nervous system are typically the result of a difficult delivery, and often involve larger babies. There are several types of nerve injuries:
- Facial nerve injury: Typically, facial nerve injuries are the result of a forceps-assisted delivery or unusual fetal positioning before birth. These injuries generally heal within a few months after birth.
- Brachial plexus injury: The brachial plexus is a large group of nerves between the neck and shoulders. If a baby’s arm is stretched during a difficult delivery, these nerves can sustain severe, permanent damage, resulting in paralysis in part of the baby’s arm or hand.
- Spinal injury: While rare, it is possible for the spinal cord to become overstretched during delivery, leading to permanent paralysis below the point of injury.
- Phrenic nerve injury: The phrenic nerve is the nerve leading into the diaphragm. When this nerve is damaged, babies may have a hard time breathing, and may require mechanical assistance after birth.
- Shoulder dystocia: Shoulder dystocia occurs when one or both of a baby’s shoulders get stuck inside the mother’s pelvis during birth. Shoulder dystocia is a common cause of birth injury, and can result in damage to both mother and child.
Nerve injuries vary in seriousness, as well as the part of the body that is affected. Often, these birth injuries can result in lifelong symptoms, including muscle weakness and paralysis. Parents of children with Erb palsy, Klumpke palsy or any other nerve-related injury should consider reaching out to a dedicated Chicago personal injury law firm for immediate assistance. Most nerve-related birth injuries can be prevented when doctors exercise reasonable care and sound judgment throughout the delivery process.
Perinatal asphyxiation refers to a deprivation of blood or oxygen in a baby before, during or shortly after birth. As a fetus descends through the birth canal, it receives blood (and oxygen) from the mother through the umbilical cord. If the flow of blood is compromised during the birthing process it is referred to as perinatal asphyxia.
Babies who suffer from perinatal asphyxia can be completely normal; however, for others the result can be catastrophic, ranging from mild learning disorders to cerebral palsy. Some cases of perinatal asphyxia are fatal. There are several known causes for perinatal asphyxia, including:
- Obstruction of the blood through the umbilical cord
- Exposure to certain drugs or medications before birth
- Severe maternal hemorrhage.
- Placental abruption
Cerebral palsy refers to a group of disorders that affect movement, balance and posture. Cerebral palsy is the most common motor disorder among young children, and also one of the most common types of birth injury. An estimated four out of every 1,000 babies born suffer from cerebral palsy. The symptoms of cerebral palsy typically include a combination of developmental delays, abnormal muscle tone and abnormal posture. Medical experts classify cerebral palsy into three categories, depending on the type of movement disorders a patient exhibits:
- Ataxia: Caused by damage to the cerebellum, ataxic cerebral palsy impairs a child’s balance and coordination. Those who suffer from ataxic cerebral palsy often have unsteady or shaky movement and poor depth perception.
- Spasticity: Caused by damage to the motor cortex of the brain, spastic cerebral palsy results in increased muscle tone. Children with spastic cerebral palsy may have difficulty controlling individual muscle groups, making it difficult to grab objects.
- Dyskinesia: Caused by damage to the basal ganglia, dyskinetic cerebral palsy is characterized by involuntary movements. Doctors further classify dyskinetic cerebral palsy based on the following symptoms:
- dystonia – repetitive twisting motions
- athetosis – slow, writhing motions
- chorea – wild, abrupt movements
While there are some cases of perinatal asphyxiation that are not caused by medical negligence, most cases are preventable. Families with children who have been born with cerebral palsy or otherwise suffered from perinatal asphyxiation should reach out to an Illinois injury lawyer to determine what remedies may be available.
Are Birth Injuries Preventable?
No medical procedure is absolutely safe; vaginal and Cesarean births are no exception. However, the majority of Chicago birth injuries are avoidable when medical professionals take the proper precautions. Hospitals and the doctors that they employ all have a duty to provide an adequate level of care to each of their patients. Of course, doctors are human and routinely make errors, misjudgments and oversights. When this happens during the labor and delivery process, innocent lives are forever changed.
Families that have endured a preventable birth injury are entitled to pursue a Chicago medical malpractice claim against the doctors and hospitals involved in their child’s delivery. If successful, families may recover compensation for past and future medical expenses, the need for additional caretakers, accommodations that must be made to the family home, the costs of counseling and special education, as well as for any pain and suffering that the child will experience throughout their lifetime. However, it is important that families keep in mind that, under the Illinois medical malpractice statute of limitations, families typically have only two years to bring a claim against a negligent medical provider. While this timeframe can be extended in rare circumstances, most often it begins from the time of birth. Claims that are not filed within the statute of limitations run the risk of being dismissed before they are heard, leaving family members with no means of recourse.
Contact an Experienced Chicago Birth Injury Law Firm
If you or your child has recently suffered through a traumatic birth, and experienced serious injury as a result, contact the Chicago birth injury lawyers at Briskman Briskman & Greenberg for immediate assistance. Our attorneys represent families that have been forever changed by acts of medical malpractice. The skilled attorneys at our firm have over 30 years of experience advocating on behalf of Chicago families, and we know what it takes to succeed on our clients’ behalf. From the moment you invite us to work on your case, we diligently investigate your claim, seeking to uncover all potentially liable parties and theories of liability. All cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means that we will only accept payment if we are successful in getting compensation for you or your family. To learn more, call 1-877-595-4878 to schedule a free consultation today.