Birth Defects vs. Birth Injuries

Updated February 23, 2023 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

Parents want their children to be happy and healthy. They trust doctors, nurses, and other medical staff to provide the best care at every stage of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. In a perfect world, there would be no accidents, and everything would go smoothly. Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan when a child is born.

Birth defects and birth injuries can turn a time that should be filled with joy into a time of fear, bewilderment, and loss. Illnesses or injuries at birth can lead to lifelong medical complications, the need for extensive care, significant expenses, and premature death. A complicated birth or delivery can result in anything from the failure of muscle and bone development to emotional or psychological problems that can impact a child’s physical development. 

Birth defects occur during pregnancy, especially in the early stages, and are often unavoidable. Birth injuries occur during labor and delivery and may result from negligence by a doctor or nurse.  Suppose a child or mother is injured during labor and delivery due to a physician’s negligence. In such a case, the injured party may be entitled to compensation. It’s crucial to distinguish between unavoidable birth defects and avoidable birth injuries.

How do you determine whether your child’s health condition is a birth defect or a birth injury? The distinction depends on how the health condition originated.

Distinctions Can Get Complicated

Now that we’ve clarified the differences between birth defects and birth injuries, we can take a look at the legal implications of these terms and consider when legal action may be possible.

If a birth defect can’t be prevented but a birth injury can, then it seems like only a birth injury can result in medical malpractice. Any defect or injury to a child is traumatic in the eyes of the parents; in the eyes of the law,  only cases of medical malpractice are eligible for compensation. However, there are instances in which medical malpractice may apply to a birth defect and instances in which it may not apply to a birth injury.

First, although many birth defects have genetic causes, other factors may be involved. For instance, if a medication causes a birth defect, a doctor can be found negligent for prescribing the medication if they knew the risks. Second, although many birth injuries are preventable, some result from the normal, natural birth process and don’t indicate any negligence on the part of the health care workers involved.

Let’s consider a few scenarios to understand in more detail when there may be a case of medical malpractice, whether with a birth defect or a birth injury.

First, some genetic defects are treatable in utero, that is, while a baby is still in the womb. If a doctor does not properly diagnose a treatable condition, that could be considered negligence.

Second, let’s consider the prevention of birth injuries. When a doctor looks at a chart or ultrasound and misses a crucial detail, a birth injury can result, caused by the doctor’s negligence. For instance, a doctor should recognize and make adjustments for risk factors for birth injuries such as an extra-large baby, a birth canal that’s too small for a baby, an umbilical cord wrapped around a baby’s neck, or a placental abruption. If a doctor misses such a detail, the doctor may have caused a serious, preventable birth injury.

Health care personnel must meet the established standard of care re, whether it’s prenatal care or care given during labor and delivery. If they don’t, they may be liable for medical malpractice—regardless of whether it’s related to a birth defect or a birth injury.

Birth defects and birth injuries are causes of grief for parents. Although it’s important to understand the distinctions between birth defects and birth injuries, in either case, a lawyer will examine the evidence to determine whether there was medical malpractice on the part of health care providers.

Contact a Birth Injury Attorney Today

If you believe your health care providers caused your child to become injured or failed to prevent a tragedy, keep detailed records of all doctor’s visits, tests, diagnoses, and treatments. Consider consulting with another physician to get their opinion on the treatment your child received. We also urge you to contact the Indianapolis birth injury attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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