Advice on Claiming Birth Negligence Compensation
Contacting birth injury solicitors
Having a child is a truly wonderful occasion and there is no greater feeling than becoming a new mother or father. Conversely, there is no worse feeling when something goes wrong during labour. Due to the sensitivity of both mother and baby during the birth, accidents can be made and complications can occur. If the mother or baby is injured during birth, the parents may be eligible to make a birth injury claim.
If you suspect that the mother or baby’s birth injuries were a direct result of a healthcare professional’s negligence, and could have been avoided had they been more careful, you should speak to our personal injury lawyers as soon as possible.
Proving negligence was the cause of the birth injuries
Injuries during birth can happen due to a number of reasons and oftentimes, it is very difficult to pinpoint who exactly is at fault. When we are upset, it is common to want to point the finger at someone else. However, sometimes, complications during pregnancy or labour will cause injuries. Doctors and hospital staff cannot be held responsible for this. Other times, it might be the parents fault for delaying or not knowing what to do.
Types of birth injury
As with any complex and individual medical procedure, giving birth is open to a wide range of complications, some of which date back to treatment received (or not received) in the months leading up to the birth, others which occur during labour itself. The list below is far from complete, but offers a few examples of the kind of injuries which can occur when something goes wrong during childbirth:
Incorrect use of forceps
Forceps may be used by the practitioners delivering your baby in order to help guide the baby’s head. This may be considered if there is concern about the baby’s heart rate, if the baby is in a difficult position or if the mother is too exhausted to push. In most cases, the use of forceps is safe but, if used incorrectly, they can result in injuries to the mother or baby. These injuries could include vaginal tearing or episiotomy (which can generally be repaired using stitches), a third or fourth degree vaginal tear which affects the muscle as well, a higher risk of blood clots and the chance of urinary or anal incontinence. In all cases, the practitioner should have explained these risks in full to the mother before using the forceps, in order to ensure that the consent given is genuinely informed.
The risks to the baby being delivered using forceps include bruising and small cuts to the head and face.
The Royal College of Midwives sets out guidelines for the best technique to repair trauma and tearing during childbirth, and points out that the key to effective suturing (stitching) is to recognise the scale and type of the injury involved and to repair it effectively. A failure to do so could lead to problems such as infection, bleeding and muscle damage.
This is a serious condition in which the placenta becomes detached from the wall of the womb causing pains, bleeding and contractions. It also presents health risks to the unborn baby such as stillbirth, premature birth and growth problems. A failure to diagnose a placental abruption would place both mother and baby at risk of serious injury.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition which generally affects women during the second half of their pregnancy, after the 20 week mark. The early symptoms include elevated blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine, both of which should be noted during routine antenatal appointments. If a pregnant woman is diagnosed with pre-eclampsia she will sometimes be admitted to hospital for monitoring, and the baby may be delivered early via the labour being induced or a caesarean section. If the condition isn’t diagnosed, then both mother and baby are at risk, in particular from a condition known as ‘eclampsia’, which is rare but can cause dangerous fits.
Cerebral palsy is a serious condition with symptoms which vary in severity but can include muscle stiffness or floppiness and weakness, uncontrolled body movements and co-ordination issues, fits and problems swallowing. Research during the 1980s identified problems which can cause damage to the brain of a baby before it is born, but it is still accepted that some cases are caused by brain damage which occurs during or soon after the birth itself, such as that brought about by a lack of oxygen.
The details of every case of birth injury will differ slightly, but the principle remains the same – if the injury to you or your baby was caused by treatment which fell below the level you might reasonably expect, then you may have been the victim of negligence and have the right to make a claim. In some cases the injury will be physically slight but emotionally and psychologically distressing whilst, as the list above demonstrates, some birth injuries can cause problems which impact for years to come.
Claiming against the NHS
Many people hesitate to make a claim against the NHS due to a combination of the scale of the organisation and, in some cases, a sense of guilt. The fact of the matter is, however, that anyone receiving treatment via the NHS has the right to expect reasonable treatment and to claim compensation if reasonable standards aren’t met.
It should also be borne in mind that medical practitioners take the lessons learned from cases of negligent treatment and apply them to improving services in the future. The NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) compiled a report analysing claims dealing with birth injuries to mothers or babies which took place between April 2000 and March 2010. The figures revealed that there were 5,087 claims made during this time, out of a total of 5.5 million births throughout England, and that the value of these claims amounted to £3.1 billion. These figures indicate two things; firstly, that birth injuries leading to negligence claims are rare (amounting to 0.09% of all births) but that, as demonstrated by the amount awarded, the effects can be extremely drastic and the cases long and complex.
The three most frequent categories in the report were:
— Management of labour – 14.05%
— Caesarean section – 13.24%
— Cerebral palsy – 10.65%
Taken together, management of labour claims and cerebral palsy claims, along with foetal heart monitor interpretation, accounted for 70% of the value of the compensation awarded. A Department of Health report written in 2000, called ‘An Organisation With A Memory’, highlighted the value of compensation claims to the NHS, stating that “data from litigation claims represent a potentially rich source of learning from failure” and that an effort to learn from mistakes would prevent some births of brain damaged babies in the future.
In order for a birth injury claim to be successful, you need to prove that the medical practitioner was at fault. To do this, you have to show that the medical practitioner’s actions directly resulted in the birth injury and that, given the circumstances, other medical professionals in similar positions would not have acted in the same way. Testimony from medical experts is often required to demonstrate this. The British Medical Association has produced a set of guidelines in relation to how expert witnesses should operate.
Time limit for making a claim
In the UK, you have 3 years from the date of injury to bring a claim. However, there are times when victims of birth injuries are not aware that an injury has occurred until some time after. In cases such as these, you have 3 years from the date of knowledge of the medical negligence to make a claim.
There is also an additional allowance for those under 18-years-old when the injuries occur. In such cases, the victim has three years to make a claim once they reach the age of 18.
The amount of compensation awarded
Not knowing the precise details of your case, there is no telling how much you could be awarded. Compensation can vary greatly from claim to claim. The court considers 3 main factors when determining compensation values: the severity of the injuries, the duration of the injuries and the cost of any expenses related to the injuries. After hearing the details of your case, claims.co.uk’s injury lawyers will be able to give you an idea of how much compensation you can expect to win.
To make all of this easier on you, feel free to contact us to discuss your claim. We can put you in contact with a qualified birth injury solicitor with years of knowledge and experience handling claims just like yours.