Birth injuries can be incredibly traumatic to experience and to continue to live with. This is why many people seek compensation after such an injury so that they can make the most of their difficult situation.
A birth injury is any health issue as a result of childbirth for either the baby or the mother. The success of childbirth is often due to a combination of factors including doctor and midwife experience and competence, the hospital facilities and their availability and accessibility, and emergency care and processes.
For many women, surgical interventions often result in birth injuries to the mother and the child. One of the most common birth injuries for the child is cerebral palsy, with brain damage or nerve damage being next in line. With assisted deliveries, forceps and other tools can cause defects to both the baby and the mother.
Medical negligence is also sometimes a cause of death for a baby due to a ruptured placenta or the umbilical cord being around the baby’s neck.
UK Birth Injury Statistics
Recent research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists shows that, in 2015, 921 babies suffered a severe brain injury. Many of these injuries resulted in a baby’s death or, at the very least, life-altering injuries:
- 119 babies died during labour
- 147 babies died within the first seven days of birth due to birth injury
- 655 babies have a resulting severe brain injury caused by delivery.
Additionally, the Office of National Statistics reported that, in 2013, there were 2,686 deaths of infants under a year old recorded in England and Wales, and these were occasionally due to birth complications or birth injuries.
According to the Birth Trauma Association, up to 30,000 women suffer from some form of trauma as a result of childbirth every year in the UK.
Instead of birth being happy and joyful; for many, it is scary and traumatic. If the baby suffers an injury because of the birth, or if the baby’s heart rate dropped, meaning an emergency c-section was needed, it can have devastating consequences on both the mother and her child.
Often, these women go on to develop symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This can include a heightened sense of anxiety, flashbacks, constantly feeling ‘alert’ and unable to relax, and avoiding anything related to the experience.
Those who suffer an accident or injury during birth are often the most at risk, but anyone can suffer from birth trauma regardless of any resulting injuries. Witnessing a partner’s difficult or complicated childbirth can also be traumatic; partners can also suffer from symptoms of PTSD.
If a doctor, midwife, or other medical staff do not meet the highest treatment standards or do not provide the right medical support for a mother and baby during childbirth, birth injuries can happen as a result.
The most common ways medical negligence manifests itself are:
- inadequate monitoring
- lack of experience
- incorrect diagnosis
- lack of training in tools such as forceps
- a failure to take remedial action
- errors in surgical procedures resulting in complications and injuries
- errors in surgical procedures cosmetically
- an anaesthetic mistake during a surgical procedure
- negligence in care – including injuries during care postnatally.
If you can show that you have suffered from medical negligence, compensation may be awarded following a birth injury.
Duty of Care
Anyone who works as a medical professional has a “duty of care” to their patients. This means that they need to take all necessary actions and precautions with the patient’s welfare at the forefront. If they fail to do this in any procedure, decision, or in logistics, there may be a case for medical negligence.
A Mother’s Birth Injuries
Many women suffer injuries as a result of childbirth. Some injuries are relatively minor and are common or often expected during childbirth.
Such minor injuries, for example, can include minor vaginal tears or grazes.
However, some birth injuries are much more severe. For these types of injuries where you can demonstrate liability or negligence, it is possible to claim birth injury compensation for the mother or on behalf of the mother in the unfortunate event of her death.
These injuries can include:
- Severe Vaginal Tears (third of fourth-degree tears treated incorrectly)
- Poor stitching (of C-Section or to repair a vaginal tear)
- Secondary infections due to poorly managed post-delivery complications
- Bowel and bladder injuries due to a c-section error
- Placental abruption (early separation of the placenta)
- Delay or misdiagnosis of pre-eclampsia
- Errors with anaesthesia
- Shock following a difficult birth
A Baby’s Birth Injuries
New-born babies can suffer from a variety of birth injuries, most of which are avoidable medically. These can include:
- cerebral palsy
- shoulder dystocia injuries (shoulders getting stuck during delivery)
- brain damage
- nerve damage
- fractured skulls
- death resulting from hypoxia (lack of oxygen pre- or post-birth).
Parents should seek legal advice should their child suffer a birth injury such as those listed above. You must show the medical professional’s liability in any compensation claim.
Cerebral Palsy and Birth Injuries
As mentioned, one of the most common birth injuries to a baby is cerebral palsy. The main cause of cerebral palsy is a brain injury.
Specific actions during delivery can cause such a brain injury. In times of difficulty, it is often the baby’s brain that is the first organ to be affected. After birth, the brain does not continue to develop correctly as a result of the injury.
As a consequence, the baby is very likely to have permanent disabilities as he or she grows. These include difficulties with balance, posture, muscle tone, and muscle movement.
If the cerebral palsy is a result of medical negligence as outlined above, the parents could claim compensation. Quite often, such compensation claims are made to secure funds for the extra care that the child may need as he or she develops and grows. Many of the most advanced treatments are not yet available on the NHS or have very long waiting lists.
Birth Injury Severity
One of the key features in any birth injury claim is assessing how severe a birth injury is. The degree of the injury plays a crucial part in any compensation claim. Any resulting pay-out will likely depend on how severe the injury is.
A birth injury’s actual and long-term effects may not become apparent until later in the mother or the baby’s life. Certain medical conditions can be hard to spot until a child reaches adulthood.
In severe cases, this can include malfunctioning organs which may require corrective surgery if this is possible. The injury sustained can have any number of effects, including physical disability, brain damage, a psychological disorder, or any combination. This includes not being able to work and being independent as an adult.
Despite some of these effects not being known at the time of the claim, thorough medical evaluations should be carried out to try and diagnose any conditions that may appear in the future as a result of the injury. This is one way to ensure that a claimant seeks the correct amount of compensation.
Type of Negligence Claims with Birth Injuries
There is more than one type of negligence claim regarding birth injuries. Potential claimants must understand the differences so that they can make a strong case.
- This is where the victim is solely responsible for the injury, and therefore no damages or compensation is likely to be considered for the victim.
- Here, the injured party is partly responsible for injuries sustained. The courts then decide the proportion of shared responsibility with any other guilty party.
- The medical or hospital organisation takes responsibility for any birth injuries sustained.
- In this case, medical professions have not kept their Duty of Care to the patient. For these cases, legal proceedings happed in court, usually resulting in the suspension of the professional or license revocation. The courts may decide that compensation is due to a direct result of the traumatic birth.
Birth Injury: Now What?
When a birth injury occurs to you or your family, it is inevitably a complicated situation, and fighting a battle legally will no doubt add to your stresses.
As a result, you should follow these simple steps toward seeking possible compensation:
Seek more medical opinions.
- Once you are in the position to be able to pursue a claim, you should seek a second opinion. Clinical Negligence Solicitors can often arrange this for you.
Document and organise evidence.
- You should make notes and take photos (if appropriate) or any evidence you have regarding a possible birth injury claim as you may not remember all the details later.
Evidence of Financial Loss
- Gather together any financial loss evidence, including receipts or bills to show the impact that the birth injury has had. This can be losses due to medical bills, loss of income for reasons, including psychological trauma or frequent hospital visits/admissions.
What Can You Claim For Birth Injury?
You can try to recover several types of expenses and damages with a birth injury compensation claim. For example, you can include:
- General damages for a doctor or medical staff member’s negligence or hospital negligence.
- Damages due to malfunctioning or failed hospital facilities or medical equipment.
- Medical expenses such as private of specialist health care.
Travel expenses due to additional travel to the hospital and home, the solicitor’s, or any other journeys linked to the birth injury claim.
- Funeral expenses in the case of a patient died as a result of a birth injury.
Legal experts are on hand to guide you so that you can ensure that you claim for the full amount of compensation that you are entitled to.
How Much Might A Claim Be?
All claims are settled depending on the case’s individual merits. The figures below are purely a guide as to what is possible to claim, not necessarily what will be awarded.
This table is not exhaustive, and there are many other ways in which a person may suffer as a result of birth injury.
When and How to Start a Claim?
There is a restriction as to when you can apply for a claim for a birth injury. For an injury to a baby, you can open up a claim right until their 18th birthday. If you do not claim during this period on their behalf, the child can claim as a young adult up until their 21st birthday.
If the baby has acquired an injury that has resulted in a reduction of their mental capacity to the extent that there will be no improvements as they age, there is no time limit as to when you can claim for negligence.
For help, support, and guidance in coping with a birth injury and seeking compensation, contact a clinical negligence solicitor.
You should also try and familiarise yourself with the regulations, processes, and laws that may be involved in the claim.
Specialist medical negligence solicitors will assess your claims and be able to help and guide you as to whether you have a valid case for compensation. They may also be able to offer an estimate as to the amount of a potential settlement based on their previous case history.
For help, support, and guidance in coping with a birth injury and seeking compensation, have a look at the links below:
Citizens’ Advice for NHS Hospital Complaints
NHS Resolution – the official medical negligence body for NHS patient claims.
The Birth Trauma Association – for help and support in coping with birth injury and trauma
Mind – for post-natal PTSD due to birth trauma
PANDAS– A charity for pre- and post-natal mental illness offering support with a free helpline: 0808 1961 776.
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