A birth injury lawyer at her desk in a bright office working at a computer.

A birth injury refers to damage that occurs due to an “adverse event” during the birth process. Birth injuries are distinct from birth defects, which typically stem from genetic factors or other issues occurring early in pregnancy.

While birth defects are often inevitable, birth injuries are frequently the result of medical errors during delivery. If your child has experienced a birth injury, you might be questioning whether the attending doctor is responsible. In addition, you could have multiple other concerns:

  • Was your child’s injury avoidable?
  • Did the doctor commit an error that might have lifelong implications for your child?
  • How will you manage the extra care your baby requires?

Along with these pressing questions, financial concerns may also weigh on your mind. Many birth injuries necessitate long-term treatment and support to ensure the child receives comprehensive care. While you might have been prepared for the typical costs of raising a child, these additional expenses could stretch far beyond the limits of your budget.

Your baby could need physical or speech therapy, mobility aids, consultations with specialists, and other care your insurance may or may not cover. How can you make sure they receive the best possible care?

Contact an Albuquerque Birth Injury Attorney Today

If a birth injury has affected your child, your next step should be to consult with a birth injury attorney who can evaluate the details of the birth. If we determine that medical negligence contributed to the injury, we can seek compensation for your child’s medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages.

We will explore the specifics of potential damages later in this article.

For a free consultation regarding your birth injury concerns, please reach out to Olson Personal Injury Lawyers. We will address your questions and explore your options for seeking compensation. There is no obligation on your part, and you can ask us anything.

Should you decide to proceed with our assistance, you won’t incur any fees until we successfully win or settle your case, eliminating any worry about upfront costs.

What Causes Birth Injuries?

There is no single cause of birth injuries, but most result from some type of trauma during the birth. This can be a physical impact, such as damage from the misuse of forceps during a difficult delivery or the effects of a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain.

Within these categories, there are multiple reasons why a birth injury may occur. Here are some common birth injuries and their potential causes:

Delayed or Missed Diagnosis of Pregnancy Complications

During pregnancy, regular OBGYN visits serve the purpose of screening for complications that can endanger both you and your baby. Your doctor should monitor your lab work, blood pressure, and other indicators of illness or fetal distress.

If they fail to do so, or if they don’t give abnormal results the attention they deserve, your labor and delivery could be unnecessarily complicated.

Monitoring the health of both patients continues to be essential after delivery as well. The consequences can be severe if a doctor misses a potential problem in a newborn.

One example is a condition called kernicterus, in which bilirubin levels rise to dangerous levels, often from bruising that occurs during delivery. In this case, the bruising itself doesn’t directly cause damage, but the bilirubin produced as the bruises heal can rise to excessive levels.

If bilirubin reaches a certain level, the newborn could suffer permanent brain damage.

There are several treatments available to prevent brain damage from Kernicterus if it’s diagnosed promptly. However, if a physician fails to identify signs of the condition and order further tests, it could be missed until it’s too late.

Permanent effects of the condition could include cerebral palsy (which we’ll discuss more later), hearing loss, speech difficulties, and intellectual disability.

Kernicterus is only one example of many birth injuries that can occur if a doctor doesn’t provide a reasonable standard of care during and after pregnancy.

Oxygen Deprivation During Delivery

Brain damage can happen quickly when a baby is deprived of oxygen during delivery. Oxygen deprivation, sometimes called asphyxia at birth, often causes a condition known as Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE.

This condition arises when brain cells die due to a lack of oxygen, potentially leading to developmental issues later on.

Injuries from oxygen deprivation might not be immediately noticeable. A baby could initially seem to develop normally but may later miss typical developmental milestones.

These injuries can also vary widely in severity, with some children having only mild symptoms and others suffering serious disability.

Some children with HIE may develop cerebral palsy, a birth injury that affects movement and coordination. Symptoms such as poor muscle tone or delays in milestones like rolling over or sitting up might not become evident right away.

If you notice any delays in reaching milestones, it’s helpful to speak with your child’s doctor immediately so they can get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

Another form of HIE is called periventricular leukomalacia, which involves the death of white matter in the brain due to oxygen deprivation. Similar to cerebral palsy in some ways, it can impact motor functions and may also affect learning and other abilities.

The onset of HIE symptoms varies: some infants show signs within the first few months, while others may not be diagnosed until they are two years or older. Here are some signs of mild to moderate HIE to look out for in infants:

  • Weak muscle tone (muscles may seem floppy) or overly tense muscles.
  • Troubles with feeding.
  • Weak or abnormal crying.
  • Blue or gray skin tone, especially around the lips and extremities.

Signs of more severe HIE include:

  • Weak or nonexistent response to touch or sound.
  • Poor reflexes.
  • Unusual breathing patterns.
  • Difficulties with a slow or irregular heartbeat.
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness.

Many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to address them with your child’s doctor immediately.

What Causes Oxygen Deprivation During Delivery?

Various situations can lead to oxygen deprivation during birth. Risk factors include:

  • Prolonged labor.
  • A prolapsed umbilical cord.
  • Any trauma or difficulty that blocks blood flow through the umbilical cord.
  • Difficult labor.
  • Placental abruption.
  • Placenta previa.
  • Uterine rupture.
  • Abnormal fetal positions like a “breech” position.

While these complications are not usually the physician’s fault, the obstetrician is expected to monitor the patient for signs of fetal distress or difficult labor. Often, a cesarean delivery or other interventions can mitigate the risk to the baby if the doctor recognizes the danger in time.

When difficult labor becomes an emergency, a doctor should act swiftly to ensure the baby’s oxygen supply is maintained. If that didn’t happen in your delivery, the physician’s negligence might have caused or contributed to a birth injury.

Physical Injuries During Delivery

Newborns are especially vulnerable to injury, primarily due to their small size and undeveloped bones. Infants born prematurely are at higher risk, but even a full-term baby can easily suffer an injury.

Sometimes, a baby sustains an injury due to physical trauma or pressure during delivery.

Even passing through the birth canal in an uncomplicated birth can lead to bruising, bleeding, or bursting blood vessels in the eyes, and the use of vacuum extraction or forceps to assist delivery can heighten this risk.

Fortunately, these injuries are frequently minor and heal without long-term harm.

However, birth trauma can be more severe, particularly if the delivery is complicated or if the doctor incorrectly uses tools like forceps or vacuum extractors. For instance, if the doctor uses excessive force or improper maneuvers, the pressure on the baby’s skull could cause brain bleeding or other serious injuries.

In some situations, these injuries may be worsened if the doctor fails to diagnose and treat them.

Fractures can also occur during birth, usually involving the collarbone and clavicle. Although these bones heal quickly in newborns, the baby may need physical therapy exercises or movement restrictions to prevent permanent damage.

Again, early diagnosis and treatment are key.

Skull fractures can happen as well, especially with forceps. Usually, these will also heal on their own, but a depressed skull fracture can sometimes signal brain damage, and it requires immediate medical attention.

Nerve Injuries

These are typically caused by physical trauma during delivery, including any situation that puts excessive pressure on a specific nerve. Here are some common nerve injuries:

Shoulder Dystocia

This condition typically results from difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder. Sometimes, the baby’s arm may be positioned in a way that complicates delivery, causing the shoulder to get stuck and halting progress.

In such cases, the doctor may try repositioning the arm or shoulder to facilitate delivery.

Even with these efforts, a shoulder delivery complication can sometimes result in brachial palsy, which involves damage to the nerves controlling the arm and hand. It’s crucial for doctors to identify this issue early so they can recommend exercises to maintain the range of motion while the nerves heal.

In severe cases, the nerves may be torn rather than just injured, potentially leading to permanent disability in the affected arm.

Facial Paralysis

This is another injury caused by birth trauma, affecting the baby’s facial nerve. Unlike some other birth injuries, this condition is typically noticeable immediately, as only one side of the baby’s face will move when they cry. The baby might also be unable to close the eye on the affected side.

When these symptoms are observed, doctors should promptly assess the damage. While some milder facial injuries may heal on their own, others could require surgery to prevent permanent damage.

Phrenic Nerve Injuries

The phrenic nerve can be damaged if the baby’s neck is hyperextended during delivery, which is most common in breech and forceps deliveries. Unfortunately, this nerve damage can cause difficulty breathing in a newborn.

Most infants recover within a few months but must be monitored for breathing problems.

Spinal Cord Injuries

In rare cases, a baby suffers a spinal cord injury that can cause permanent paralysis during delivery. Usually, these injuries occur because of pulling, twisting, or the improper use of tools in removing the baby from the birth canal.

Although spinal cord injuries are not common, it’s important for a doctor to recognize signs after a difficult delivery. If the injury is incomplete, the infant may fully recover with proper treatment.

Stabilizing the spine quickly, diagnosing the exact injury, and, in some cases, performing surgery can help reduce difficulties and, sometimes, prevent permanent damage. If your doctor failed to notice signs of spinal cord injury or failed to act promptly, they may be at fault.

Maternal Injuries

Neglecting to carefully monitor a pregnant patient can also result in maternal injuries, often due to hemorrhaging or hypertension. Preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure, can be particularly dangerous.

It’s the doctor’s duty to watch for signs such as elevated blood pressure, swelling in the face or hands, and protein in the urine.

If preeclampsia is detected early, doctors can intervene by recommending bed rest, hospital monitoring, or medications to lower blood pressure and prevent seizures. However, if left untreated, preeclampsia can lead to severe and sometimes permanent consequences, including organ damage or stroke.

Sometimes, delivering the baby early is necessary if other treatment options have failed.

Another potential maternal injury can occur during a cesarean delivery if the doctor inadvertently leaves a surgical tool or instrument inside the body. As a result, the patient may experience pain and other symptoms for months or even years before discovering the mistake.

If you receive such a diagnosis, it is crucial to contact an attorney immediately because New Mexico does not extend the three-year statute of limitations in cases where the surgical error wasn’t discovered immediately.

Additional maternal injuries include organ prolapse or damage, severe tearing, broken pelvis, PTSD from a traumatic birth, and brain damage from hemorrhaging. While not all these injuries are preventable, a doctor’s failure to act to prevent further complications may constitute negligence.

If you’ve experienced an injury from a traumatic birth, we recommend speaking with a seasoned Albuquerque birth injury lawyer as soon as possible to learn more.

Do You Only Have Three Years to File A Birth Injury Claim For Your Child?

Three years is the statute of limitations for adults who have suffered medical malpractice.

However, New Mexico does allow an exception for injured children or minors, whose injuries may not become apparent for years after they occur.  For this reason, you may be able to file a birth injury lawsuit until the child is nine years old (depending on when the injury is diagnosed).

Keep in mind that your attorney will need time to prepare, so it’s best to contact a lawyer as soon as you suspect a birth injury.

What Damages Can Your Albuquerque Birth Injury Attorney Seek In a Lawsuit?

A birth injury can cause lifelong consequences for the child, the parent, or both. You may have ongoing costs for the rest of your baby’s childhood or even longer, depending on the nature of the injury.

Your attorney will discuss the specifics of your case and review the following categories so they can accurately calculate your damages:

Medical Costs

The financial impact of a birth injury can extend far beyond the initial medical bills. You or your child might require ongoing care, including a potential stay in the NICU if the injury is severe.

Sometimes, the child’s injury might not be diagnosed immediately, necessitating various therapies later to regain lost functions. Obtaining a diagnosis can be costly, involving multiple tests and specialist appointments.

Certain birth injuries result in permanent disabilities, and in severe cases, the child could need lifelong care. Some children will require mobility devices, which must be replaced periodically and can be expensive.

For example, a child with a spinal cord injury might require a wheelchair, but this will need to be replaced multiple times as the child grows. Depending on the severity of the injury, they may need a chair with additional features.

Even once the child reaches adulthood and is no longer growing, wheelchairs don’t last forever and require replacement from time to time. This is only one mobility device a child with a spinal cord injury might need.

Additionally, they could require physical therapy to preserve the mobility they do have or help them adapt to their disability.

Lost Income

In personal injury cases, lost income typically refers to the injured party’s temporary inability to work due to their injuries or a permanent disability that prevents them from ever returning to work. If your child’s injuries result in a severe, permanent disability that will likely prevent them from earning a living as an adult, you can seek compensation to pay for their future living expenses.

Lost income can also occur in other ways. If a child’s needs are substantial, preventing the parents from using standard childcare providers, one parent may have to leave work and become a stay-at-home parent.

This, in turn, reduces the family’s overall income and can make paying for medical care and the child’s other needs more difficult.

Increased Costs for Childcare and Education

As discussed in the previous section, finding childcare for a child with significant disabilities can be challenging. When you do find a capable provider, the cost is likely to be much higher than average for a babysitter or daycare center.

If you have increased childcare costs due to your baby’s birth injury, we can pursue compensation for this added expense.

There may also be additional educational costs for the child. While some children with disabilities do well with an IEP from their public school, others still struggle. Sometimes, parents feel their child would do better in a private school or with at-home tutoring, but these solutions are often prohibitively expensive.

We can pursue damages to help cover any added educational costs.

Pain and Suffering

Your child’s physical pain and suffering should also be taken into account, and we can pursue additional compensation for this loss. We’ll work to ensure your child’s pain is not undervalued in the final settlement.

It’s important to note that New Mexico caps medical malpractice damages at $750,000 per provider or $5 million if the at-fault party is a medical facility—including economic and non-economic damages. However, medical care expenses are not included in this number, so we can still pursue a larger amount in severe cases.

The damage cap is adjusted yearly and may be higher if your case settles in a later year. Your attorney can help you determine how much your claim is likely to be worth.

Where Can You Get Help From an Albuquerque Birth Injury Law Firm?

If you or your child have experienced a birth injury and believe a healthcare provider is at fault, please contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation about your case. You can reach out to us anytime to learn more about your options for recovering damages.

We’ll explore all avenues for pursuing compensation, answer your questions, and work to obtain the best settlement possible if you want to move forward with a lawsuit. If we take your case, there are no upfront fees—you won’t owe us anything until we achieve a successful outcome.

Attorney Sean Olson established Olson Personal Injury Lawyers in 2012 with a commitment to champion the rights of injured individuals and their families. Motivated by his childhood soccer coach’s advice to “build others up,” Mr. Olson still adheres to this principle.

He began his career as a photojournalist, and his passion for helping others tell their stories inspired him to pursue a law degree at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Graduating in the top one percent of his class, he now dedicates himself to representing seriously injured clients across the country.

His primary goal is to advocate for those harmed by negligence. Mr. Olson makes a point to meet with each client personally and is always available to provide case updates.

Outside of his legal practice, he enjoys outdoor activities with his wife, children, and pets. To work with Sean and his team of experts, please call (505) 391-4149.