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Birth Defects & NY Wrongful Life Claims

The birth of a child should be a joyous occasion. Sometimes, however, the baby is born with a birth injury, which may have been preventable. If your child has suffered a birth injury, you deserve to understand what caused your baby’s medical condition. If the injury stems from medical malpractice, the doctor, hospital, and staff must be held accountable.

Brain injuries are among the most common types of birth injury, often caused when medical providers fail to properly assess conditions prior to or during labor. There are three broad categories of preventable birth injuries to the brain: (1) oxygen deprivation, (2) trauma, and (3) reduced glucose.

Oxygen Deprivation

A baby gets oxygen from its mother through the placenta, which serves the same function as a baby’s lungs until birth. Any interference with oxygen delivery can cause birth injury. Oxygen is essential for the development and function of all organs, especially the brain. If the oxygen supply is reduced or shut off, neurons die and cell bodies break down, which can cause brain damage. In turn, the contents of the neurons are released into the baby’s brain, causing swelling. The swelling reduces blood flow in the brain, leading to a further reduction of oxygen supply, which can ultimately lead to death.

Issues with a mother’s ability to adequately supply her baby with oxygenated blood include low blood pressure (hypotension), high blood pressure (hypertension), preeclampsia, eclampsia, or maternal infection – which can result in the baby developing Cerebral Palsy. Proper monitoring can prevent these conditions.

In addition, when epidurals are used for pain management during labor, sufficient monitoring of the mother’s blood pressure is essential, since epidurals can trigger a dangerous drop. Similarly, investigations have found that a doctor’s failure to perform a timely Cesarean Section causes anoxia (low oxygen) and oxygen deprivation, resulting in Cerebral Palsy.


Babies can suffer trauma during the birth process, either during labor or delivery.

During labor, the cumulative effect of prolonged periods of contractions and pushing, which forces the baby’s head against the mother’s pelvis repeatedly in tight spaces, can cause brain damage.

During delivery, the use of Pitocin to force a vaginal birth when the baby’s size requires a Caesarean Section can cause brain trauma and skull fractures. Inappropriate use of forceps and vacuum extractors can generate blood clots inside blood vessels, leading to perinatal stroke. Other complications include cerebral bleeds, cerebral contusions, stretching and tearing of blood vessels and brain tissue, and compression of the brain with changes in blood flow.

When babies aren’t sufficiently monitored during childbirth they can suffer from oxygen deprivation. Lack of oxygen can cause serious trauma to the brain, including Cerebral Palsy and other long-term functional impairments.

Reduced Glucose

Prolonged labor can result in a drop of glucose (sugar) in the baby’s bloodstream. Hospital staff should test glucose levels after delivery. Excessively low glucose levels need to be corrected promptly, as failure to do so can cause brain injury.

Erb’s Palsy

In addition to brain injuries, another common birth injury is Erb’s Palsy. This occurs during delivery, when a baby’s shoulder becomes impacted or stuck under the mother’s pelvic bone (a condition known as shoulder dystocia), and the medical professional performing the delivery, in an attempt to dislodge the shoulder, applies excessive lateral traction to the fetal head, causing nerve damage.

A baby suffering from Erb’s Palsy – also referred to as Brachial Plexus Palsy – may require surgery to regain function. In some cases, however, the damage is too severe for corrective treatment.

Wrongful Life

Wrongful Life is a type of medical malpractice case where a claim is made on behalf of a child that was born with a birth defect. In most wrongful life cases, the claim alleges that the child would not have been born had it not been for the negligent advice to, or treatment of, the parents.

To bring a wrongful life action, the birth defect must be one that could only have been avoided with the termination of the pregnancy. The child alleges that, due to their life-altering illness or defect, he or she would have been better off not being born at all. Certain types of defects such as Tay-Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia, neurofibromatosis, and Down’s syndrome can be detected early in pregnancy and are examples of illnesses or diseases that have been considered in wrongful life cases.

In a typical wrongful life action, the parents of a child born with birth defects sue on behalf of the child. In most cases, the parents sue their doctor or a medical company for negligence, claiming that the failure to diagnose an illness in the mother (for example, the virus rubella) in the early stages of pregnancy prevented the opportunity for the mother to terminate the pregnancy. As a result, the child is born with impaired health.

In a wrongful life action, the argument is not that, in the absence of negligence by the defendant, the plaintiff would have had a healthy, unimpaired life, but rather that if the defendant had not been negligent, the plaintiff would not have been born.

Contact Schwartzapfel® Lawyers P.C.

When you’re fighting for justice on behalf of an injured child, you need the New York lawyers of Schwartzapfel® Lawyers P.C. at your side. With more than 150 years of combined experience, our attorneys are well-prepared to handle all your legal needs. Call us at 1-516-342-2200 or fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation.

At Schwartzapfel® Lawyers P.C., we have extensive experience handling the most difficult medical malpractice cases. All New York doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical facilities that provide care for their patients must do their utmost to ensure your safety. If you are a victim of medical malpractice, call us, we can help. We will fight for you!

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