Why Should a Lawyer Review Medical Records When a Baby is Born With a Birth Injury?

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by Matt Casey

Why Should a Lawyer Review Medical Records When a Baby is Born with a Birth Injury?

I’ve been a trial lawyer for nearly 16 years. In that time, I’ve handled a variety of personal injury cases – car accidents, product liability, slips and falls, medical malpractice, birth injuries, Workers’ Compensation and wrongful death.  As a personal injury lawyer, I am lucky that the fruit of my work goes to helping other individuals. I don’t discriminate; my clients are all different ages.  But, if I had to choose, I get the most satisfaction representing children. The injuries suffered by babies at birth are typically traumatic, tragic and permanent. Although the cases are sad, I find it highly rewarding to know that my work can ameliorate the harm caused to the child throughout his or her life.  It is my hope that through my posts on birth injuries, I can shed some light on the various aspects of the medicine underlying the birth of a baby and issues that might arise in a birth injury lawsuit.

One of the most frequently asked questions:

Why should a person have a lawyer review medical records when a baby is born with a birth injury?

To start, pregnancy and the childbirth is a complicated medical event. This complexity is illustrated in a child that suffers asphyxia, a common cause of brain damage. Asphyxia is the severe deficiency of oxygen to the brain. The oxygenation of a baby’s brain is an involved process. A fetus receives its oxygen from its mother. The mother’s blood is oxygenated in her lungs, flows to her placenta – the organ connecting her to the baby fetus. The placenta is able to transfer oxygen and nutrients from the mother’s blood to the baby’s blood. The oxygen is then transported by the baby’s circulatory system to the brain.  After birth, the baby’s lungs take over for the placenta and begin oxygenating the baby’s own blood.

It is possible for any part of this process to break down causing a restriction in the amount of blood reaching the baby’s brain (ischemia) or reducing the amount of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia) and ultimately causing asphyxia. Further, asphyxia can occur prior to labor beginning, during labor, or even after the baby is born. Damage to the baby’s brain caused by oxygen deficiency may be recognized immediately after birth and is regularly identified in medical records as Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). In some instances, the brain damage is not diagnosed until a parent realizes delays in the baby’s development.

Whether the brain damage is discovered early or late, one thing is certain, medical professionals will claim that the brain damage could not have been prevented. They will claim that it was caused prior to the mother arriving at the hospital or due to genetics, structural malformations in the brain, or metabolic conditions. Every midwife, nurse and physician knows that serious neurologic injury can occur if hypoxia or ischemia progresses to asphyxia. The monitoring of labor and timing of the birth are extremely important. Medical staff utilize Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM) to monitor the fetal heart rate. By carefully watching the EFM, staff can see signs of distress in a baby and make decisions concerning the timing and method of delivery.

A personal injury attorney experienced in handling birth injuries, can help a parent review the EFM and the medical records to determine IF a doctor, nurse or midwife:

  • failed to recognize the baby was in distress
  • failed to properly monitor the mother’s labor
  • failed to take appropriate action to protect the safety of the baby

The determination of the cause and the timing of a brain injury requires scrutiny of the medical records with an eye towards the medical conditions of both mother and baby that could possibly cause the injury. Finally, a lawyer experienced in handling birth injury cases will have the resources to consult with independent doctors to have the medical records and consequently the quality of the medical care properly reviewed.

It is only after a thorough review of the records that a personal injury lawyer can determine if a birth injury is present, the timing of the injury, and if it was caused by negligence on the part of the hospital staff, midwife, obstetric nurse or physician. Just as childbirth is a complicated process, determining if a birth injury case is meritorious is also a complicated process.  But the first step always begins with a complete and thorough review of the medical records.

Visit to the Casey & Devoti birth injury page  to learn more about birth injuries.  You can view a list of the most common labor and delivery errors and the most common resulting birth injuries.

Matt Casey is a partner with Casey & Devoti, a St. Louis-based personal injury law firm.  Matt and his law partner,  Matt Devoti, are seasoned litigators who together have nearly 40 years of trial experience.  They specialize in personal injury matters, such as:  car, truck and train accidents, victims of impaired/distracted driving, medical malpracticebirth injuries, product liability, slips/trips/fallselder care and sexual abuse, Workers’ Compensation, and wrongful death.   If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligence of another, call for a free consultation:  (314) 421-0763.

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