The death of an infant is the most tragic experience a parent can have. When that death is considered a wrongful death in legal terms, the tragedy is all that greater because it means the loss could have been prevented. Some kind of negligence, inaction, poor choice, or general malpractice on the part of a medical caregiver you trusted was the ultimate cause of an infant wrongful death that cannot be reversed or corrected.
There are a number of ways in which an infant death can occur, and not all can be blamed on someone. Sometimes there are genetic factors or accidents and birth injuries that could not have been predicted. In too many cases, though, the cause of an infant’s death can be pinpointed. It may be from a complication of delivery or a birth injury, for example, that should have been avoided if proper medical care were given to the mother and child.
The Death of an Infant
The death of an infant up to 28 days old is termed neonatal death, and it can occur naturally for a variety of reasons. Even with modern medicine and all of our advances, mothers and their babies still die during or immediately after childbirth.
Labor and delivery is a difficult process and there are so many things that can go wrong. The most common causes or risk factors include birth defects, which are often genetic in nature, low birth weight, and premature births.
Many of these causes are risk factors that either could not be planned for, or they were planned for, but the infant died anyway, in spite of best efforts of a medical team. It is the responsibility of doctors and other medical caregivers to monitor a pregnant patient, to recognize potential complications that could harm the child, and to take all measures to prevent these complications, like infections in the mother or preeclampsia, from harming the infant and mother.
When a mother expects medical care and her designated medical caregiver fails in any of these, the baby could die and that death could be deemed wrongful.
Asphyxia is restricted or limited blood flow, which directly causes hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation. This is a common cause of complications and lasting damage caused to an infant during childbirth and can also be fatal. Many potential factors may cause asphyxia.
In the womb, the baby may lack oxygen because of problems with the umbilical cord. During delivery, the baby’s head may become trapped in the mother’s pelvis. If not removed quickly it can be asphyxiated. The urgent pulling on the baby in this particular situation can cause other kinds of birth injuries even if the baby doesn’t die, including Erb’s palsy.
Asphyxia may also affect an infant because of health problems in the mother. For instance, her blood oxygen levels may be low if she has low blood pressure, an infection or a heart condition. Asphyxia may also occur if the placenta detaches from the uterus too early.
A woman’s doctor should be able to detect and treat these conditions to prevent complications during child birth. If an infant is born asphyxiated the doctor should recognize and treat it immediately to prevent brain damage and even death.
Traumatic Birth Injuries
Another potential cause of an infant wrongful death is a birth injury. A birth injury occurs when a baby is physically harmed during labor and delivery. This kind of injury may be an accident, such as when a baby presenting normally gets stuck in the pelvis, but often birth injuries are the result of negligence. The inappropriate use of instruments, for instance, can cause injuries to infants. Too much force with a vacuum extractor or forceps can even fracture a baby’s skull.
Failure to Order a Cesarean Section
One of the major responsibilities a doctor has for the care of a pregnant patient is to determine if a delivery is likely to be long or difficult or if complications are possible. That doctor then has to make an important, possibly life-saving decision, to perform a Cesarean section and deliver the baby surgically instead of vaginally.
When a doctor fails to order a Cesarean section and the infant dies because of complications that should have been foreseen, that doctor could rightfully be accused of infant wrongful death. A Cesarean section significantly lowers the risk that complications will cause birth injuries or the death of the newborn.
Not all infant wrongful deaths occur during or immediately after labor and delivery. While the mother and infant are still under the care of the hospital or medical center there are many mistakes that could be made and that may result in the death of the child.
Mistakes with medications have the potential to harm anyone, but infants are especially vulnerable to dying from these errors because they are so small. Even a little bit of the wrong medication could be deadly.
This is what happened in the case of an infant wrongful death in Chicago when a baby was born prematurely and was prescribed sodium chloride. The pharmacy in the hospital made an error and released a dose for the baby that was sixty times too much. The baby died and the parents filed an infant wrongful death lawsuit. They were awarded $8.5 million over the tragic mistake.
Mistakes may also be made in diagnosing any conditions an infant is born with or develops shortly after birth. Some of these conditions are life-threatening if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Infections, birth defects, genetic conditions, hemorrhages, or bleeding in the brain, respiratory distress syndrome, and kernicterus, a condition caused by jaundice can all cause a wrongful death if they are not recognized and treated.
There are cases in which it is not routine to test for a condition and the signs are not obvious, in which case the doctor may not be considered to blame for the death. However, there are plenty of instances in which a condition should have been detected and treated.
Infant wrongful death is a terrible situation for everyone. The medical caregiver that made a mistake can never take that mistake back and the parents can never get their baby back.
If you experienced this tragedy as a parent and you think you can show that your doctor or a hospital was to blame because of some action or inaction taken during delivery or soon after childbirth, you may have a case for infant wrongful death. Plenty of parents in this terrible situation have sought and won both justice and compensation for their lost child and you can too.