Infant Wrongful Death
This article has been fact checked by an experienced birth injury attorney. Sources of information for the article are listed at the bottom.
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The worst thing a parent can hear is that their infant did not survive. Childbirth can be difficult and it may often lead to birth injuries that range from mild to severe. Every year infants die because of birth injuries, even though most of these injuries will not lead to death. That is small consolation to the parents whose child does not survive.
Some birth injuries are more likely than others to lead to fatalities, such as severe asphyxiation, hemorrhaging in the brain, hydrocephalus, or damage to the spinal cord. If a birth injury leads to a death and it could have been prevented, that death is termed wrongful. You have rights as a parent and an expectation of reasonable care from your health care providers. If you think you can show that your child’s death could and should have been prevented, you could have a powerful wrongful death case to make.
Labor and delivery of a child is difficult, and even with modern advances in medicine, it is still a risky, if natural process. Even after birth, an infant is more vulnerable to death than older babies and children. Neonatal death refers to the death of an infant at birth or up to 28 days after birth. Forty-one percent of deaths of children under the age of five occur during the neonatal period, and too many of these deaths were preventable.
The most common causes of neonatal death, which occurs in four out of 1,000 births every year, are premature birth, birth defects, and low birth weight. Birth injuries are not a common cause of neonatal death, but they are the ones that are most likely to be defined as wrongful deaths.
Conditions that can contribute to neonatal death, like preeclampsia or maternal infections, should be monitored and treated. Difficult labors should be recognized and a careful decision about Cesarean section should be made. When these are neglected, death is possible, and a medical caregiver may be to blame.
Birth Injuries That Lead to Wrongful Death
The most common causes that have the potential to lead to fatality are asphyxia and traumatic injury. Asphyxia is a lack of oxygen and it can occur for a number of reasons. If there are problems with the placenta or umbilical cord, the baby may not get enough oxygen during delivery. Infections and other health conditions in the mother can also lead to asphyxiation.
Traumatic injury to the newborn may also lead to a wrongful death. Misuse of instruments, not recognizing that a birth is going to be difficult, not addressing a breech birth, and not responding appropriately to any other type of birth complication, are reasons that a medical caregiver could be found guilty of a wrongful death caused by a birth injury. Any of these could cause a child to receive an injury to the spine or brain that is severe enough to lead to death.
The most common risk factors that can lead to the types of birth injuries that have the potential to be fatal are a breech birth position, a large infant, excessive traction, and the use of instruments like forceps. All of these are things that a doctor should be able to look for, recognize, and address to avoid birth injury. Only about two percent of neonatal deaths are from birth injury, but for those parents it is significant.
Making a Case
If you are a parent whose child died at birth, you may suspect that it was a wrongful death, that it could have been prevented. You can make a case for this by suing the doctor or hospital that was responsible for your labor. With the guidance of a lawyer experienced in infant wrongful death, you can take the steps needed to prove your case and get both compensation and justice.
Assessing a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases for infants are typically restricted to those that are viable at time of birth. In other words, stillborn babies are not usually considered to have died from negligence. There are many factors that can contribute to a stillborn baby, and most are not related to a doctor’s care or negligence.
On the other hand, if a child is born alive and dies soon after birth, it may be that the doctor or other person delivering the baby can be proven to have been negligent in some way. The doctor may have used instruments too forcefully, may not have recognized that a baby was being asphyxiated by the umbilical cord, or may have failed to order a Cesarean section even when it was clear the delivery would be difficult. These and other reasons may be proof that an infant death was wrongful.
Real Wrongful Death Cases
Infant wrongful death cases are tried or settled with various outcomes, but often the parents are able to make a case and receive justice and compensation. That was the case in Bibb County, Georgia, in 2015 when after several years a couple was awarded $4.3 million in an infant wrongful death suit. The mother in this case alleged that the doctors responsible for her care failed to provide the right care in a timely manner.
The woman was found to have a cervical abnormality, a sign that she was at risk for having her baby prematurely. She claimed that her doctors did not recognize that her baby was at risk and he died just after delivery. The jury in the case deliberated for only a couple of hours before returning with the decision that the doctors were negligent.
In another case, a family was awarded over $8 million because of a more obvious mistake that led to an infant’s death. In this case the premature baby died because a hospital pharmacy made an error and provided a dose of sodium chloride that was 60 times greater than what had been prescribed. The settlement is the largest ever awarded in Illinois for infant wrongful death.
If you believe you have a valid wrongful death case, you have a right to make your case in front of a judge or jury. You can rely on a lawyer with experience in these kinds of cases to help you take the next steps. It will not bring back your baby, but holding accountable those who are to blame for the death does provide some consolation.