For expecting parents, childbirth should be a joyous occasion in which they finally get to bask in the excitement of welcoming their little one into the world. Unfortunately, all too often the negligence of a medical practitioner transforms a perfectly healthy infant into a disabled child with just one misstep.
While all cases of medical malpractice are inconceivably devastating, birth injuries are particularly reprehensible cases. Birth injuries are all too common in the United States, with those occurring in the South accounting for more than a quarter of all injuries. Florida sees a shocking amount of injuries caused by the failure of delivery room doctors and hospital staff to follow proper delivery room protocols and procedures.
Continue reading to discover what changes to legislature the state of Florida has made to provide justice for medical malpractice victims, especially those who suffered birth injuries at the hands of a negligent doctor.
Birth Injury Statistics
Today in the United States, of every 1,000 infants born, 6 to 8 of them are born with a birth injury. In other words, approximately 1 in every 9,714 people are born with a birth injury. Using this statistic, it can be found that 28,000 per year are born with a birth injury, translating to:
- 2,333 per month
- 538 per week
- 76 per day
- 3 per hour
That means that in the U.S., every 20 minutes an innocent child is injured due to the negligence of medical staff, altering the life of both parent and child indefinitely. In southern states, including Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, 1.5 out of every 1,000 newborns experienced birth trauma that could have potentially been avoided.
It's not just the children that can be harmed during delivery. Mothers are also victims of birth injuries, with the highest rate of birth injuries occurring among mothers aged 25-34 whom require birthing tool-assisted deliveries. Most recently, an Alabama family was awarded $16 million in a medical negligence lawsuit against an Alabama hospital when a jury ruled that the hospital had violated its standard of care during birth. After a nurse forcefully delayed the victim's labor by holding the child’s head inside the mother after he had crowned, the mother was left with permanent pudendal neuralgia, a condition affecting the nerves in the pelvis that causes bouts of chronic pain, a diminished sex life, and loss of energy and mobility.
In total, a recent National Healthcare Quality Report (AHRQ) stated that nearly 157,700 injuries to both mothers and their babies could have potentially avoided. Likewise, 50% of all injuries could have potentially been avoidable with adequate identification and planning for delivery room risks.
Causes of Birth Injuries
Certain risks inherently accompany childbirth. As a mother about to go into labor, you expect delivery room doctors, known as obstetricians, to be equipped to handle these risks. However, in most cases, birth injuries in Florida occur due to:
- Failure to correctly follow delivery room rules and procedures.
- Improper or incorrect delivery room drugs provided to the child's mother.
- Improperly monitoring delivery room patients.
- Improper use of forceps or other delivery room equipment and tools.
- Delayed or improperly performed C-sections or other medical procedures.
- Insufficient oxygen to the baby's brain, known as birth asphyxia.
- Improper monitoring of fetal heart rates.
- Improper use of delivery techniques, including forcefully delaying vaginal birth.
Common Birth Injuries
While some birth injuries can occur naturally due to difficulties with labor or pregnancy complications, many occur when medical practitioners act in a negligent or careless manner. Likewise, injuries can occur when natural complications arise, but are not dealt with properly. Common birth injuries include:
- Spinal cord damage
- Lack of ability to use limbs or paralysis
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain damage
- Injuries to the skull
- Wrongful death
Delivery room staff, including obstetricians, nurses, and other medical personnel are potentially responsible for these birth injuries, and can be liable in medical malpractice cases where birth injuries are involved.
Pursuing Compensation for Birth Injuries
While seeking compensation for birth injuries technically falls under the umbrella of medical malpractice, there are a few differences in the claims process. For one, there are exceptions to the statute of limitations for birth injury cases.
In most cases, parents must file either a claim or a lawsuit against the negligent medical practitioner and hospital within two years of the date on which the birth injury should have been discovered. Depending on where the birth occurred, such as a government hospital or at a for-profit hospital, the statute may be shorter or longer. However, under all circumstances, Florida statute of repose prohibits all claims or lawsuits filed more than four years after the date on which the birth injury was sustained.
Essentially, the statute of repose states that unless fraud, concealment, or misrepresentation occurs, under no circumstances may a healthcare provider be sued for medical malpractice more than four years after the date of the actual incident. Therefore, even if the victim or the victim's family is unaware of the medical malpractice and there is no reasonable way to figure it out, under most circumstances the claim may not be brought more than four years after the malpractice occurs.
However, there is an exception to this statute. It's known as "Tony's Bill," named after eight-year-old Tony Valdes from West Palm Beach. Officially known as Senate Bill 454, the bill states that for medical malpractice incidents that occurred after July 1, 1996, the four-year statute of repose cannot cut off a child's malpractice claim before their eighth birthday. This extends the period in which a suit can be filed for malpractice on behalf of a child to age 8, so long as the action is brought within two years after the family discovered the injury.
Caps on Damages for Birth Injuries
As birth injuries fall under medical malpractice cases, the caps put in place for these cases will also apply for birth injury cases. Caps are limitations placed on the potential compensation a victim may receive. Economic damages, such as hospital bills and rehabilitative therapy costs, have no cap.
However, prior to 2014, Florida had strict caps on non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are unlike economic damages in that they are without a strict clear-cut dollar amount. Examples of non-economic damages are pain and suffering as well as the loss of enjoyment of life. Previously, Florida law prohibited non-economic damages to exceed $500,000 for claims against medical practitioners, such as doctors, registered nurses, and midwives, and limited non-economic damages claims against non-practitioners to $750,000.
However, in March 2014, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the damage caps on non-economic damages as unconstitutional. The court reasoned that the damage caps, "arbitrarily reduce damage awards for plaintiffs who suffer the most drastic injuries.” Therefore, with the ruling, victims of medical malpractice, including those who suffered birth injuries, are now able to recover in excess of $500,000 or $750,000 for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses, depending on the case.
Birth injuries in the United States are a serious problem. If you've been devastated by the loss of a mother, sister, wife or daughter, or witnessed an innocent infant permanently harmed by a doctor's negligence, you deserve justice. Working with some of the most prestigious medical malpractice firms in South Florida, Weinstein Legal will discuss the details of your case and help you understand the statute of limitations as well as other factors of your case. For help in the right direction, contact Weinstein Legal.