Most babies are born without incident and receive the care that is needed to remain healthy. However, sometimes medical errors occur and infants perish before or shortly after birth. When these fatal medical errors are preventable or are caused by malpractice, it is referred to as infant wrongful death. When infant wrongful death occurs, the medical staff and facility in which delivery took place may be liable.
What is Infant Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a result of another person’s negligent or malicious actions. Infant wrongful death is usually caused by birth injuries. Birth injuries may stem from a medical professional’s failure to react quickly enough to complications, improper delivery techniques, or other medical errors.
Infant Wrongful Death Causes
Many different types of birth injuries can cause infant wrongful death, including reduced blood flow, oxygen deprivation, antepartum hemorrhage, and trauma that occurs during delivery. Medical professionals are expected to have the experience and expertise needed to prevent or treat these types of complications. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and infant wrongful death can be the result.
Oxygen deprivation may be caused by compression or restriction of the umbilical cord, by nuchal cord (cord wrapped around the neck), or by problems with the placenta. Until the infant is delivered and the umbilical cord is cut, the umbilical cord is a source of blood, oxygen, and nutrients for the baby. If delivering doctors and nurses fail to recognize warning signs of oxygen deprivation, fatality can occur quickly.
Reduced Blood Flow
Adequate blood flow is needed to keep an infant’s brain and vital organs functioning properly. Reduced blood flow can cause the organs to shut down, which may cause death if medical professionals do not react quickly enough. Reduced blood flow can be caused by poor positioning of the baby during delivery, difficulties with the size of the baby in comparison to the birth canal, or improper use of equipment used to aid in delivery.
Antepartum hemorrhage is bleeding during pregnancy that is caused by complications. Placental abruption occurs when the placenta prematurely separates from the wall of the uterus. If doctors fail to recognize that this phenomenon has occurred, the baby may die during or shortly before delivery.
Placental previa occurs when the placenta implants near the top of the cervix. If physicians fail to detect placental previa, it can cause severe vaginal bleeding and possibly premature birth that may result in fatality. These conditions can be harmful to the mother as well.
A uterine rupture can occur prior to or during labor. Mothers that have had previous uterine ruptures or scars on the uterus caused by cesarean sections or surgeries are more susceptible to uterine ruptures. Uterine rupture may be considered a result of malpractice when the use of drugs such as Pitocin or excessive pushing on the stomach has caused the rupture. If a uterine rupture is detected, the baby must be delivered immediately to prevent fatality.
Infant Wrongful Death Damages
Filing an infant wrongful death lawsuit can help parents to pay medical bills and may help to cover funeral costs. In some cases, judges may order parties responsible for malpractice to pay additional sums for pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of companionship. The damages that are awarded are often contingent upon the effect of the infant’s death on the parents and the state in which the malpractice takes place.
Determining Infant Wrongful Death
As with other types of medical malpractice, victims must prove that a duty of care was breached by medical professionals. Victims and attorneys must prove that the wrongful death of the infant was a direct result of the medical malpractice. States may vary regarding whether a case is considered wrongful death if the infant is born stillborn.
Parties Liable for Infant Wrongful Death
Depending on the details of the infant wrongful death case, the following parties may be held liable:
- Treating physicians
- Assisting nurses
“Antepartum Haemorrhage – Symptom, Causes, Treatment of Antepartum Haemorrhage.”HealthIssues.org. HealthIssues.org. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://health-issues.org/rare-diseases/antepartum-haemorrhage.htm>
“Infant Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Aug. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/MaternalInfantHealth/InfantMortality.htm>
“Infant Wrongful Death.” Birth Injury Guide. Birth Injury Guide, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.birthinjuryguide.org/wrongful-death/>