Can You Sue Your Obstetrician For Your Child's Birth Defect?

With advances in medical technology, today's obstetricians and neonatal specialists are able to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions in unborn children and infants. However, even with the tremendous number of diagnostic and emergency resources available, accidents can still happen. Some birth defects are the result of faulty anesthesia or complications during a cesarean section, while others may have been preventable if your doctor had properly identified or anticipated an issue your child had. Can you sue you obstetrician for medical malpractice if your child suffered an accident before or during birth? When may you have a cause of action for his or her failure to diagnose your child's genetic condition? Read on to learn more about how medical malpractice laws can apply to birth defects.

When may your obstetrician be legally responsible for your child's birth defects?

Because no two medical issues are exactly the same, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause behind many medical issues and complications, the standard for proving medical malpractice is fairly high. In most cases, a good-faith mistake or accident won't be actionable -- you'll need to establish that your doctor was negligent and failed to abide by recommended standards of care, leading to your child's birth accident or other defect. For example, if medical guidelines recommend against the use of forceps or a suction device to guide the baby's head out in cases like yours, and your physician chooses to use forceps and they puncture your child's skull, your doctor could be held liable for malpractice due to his or her actions in violation of recommended procedures.

Can you sue your obstetrician for failure to diagnose your child's birth defect?

In some cases, a relatively harmless pre-existing issue can cause major problems at birth if the doctors and nurses assisting with the birth aren't aware of it. For example, a child with a small hole in his or her heart may need corrective surgery immediately after birth, and failure to schedule and perform this surgery could lead to lifelong issues. In other cases, birth defects are so severe that, had you and your spouse known of them early in your pregnancy, you may have elected to terminate the pregnancy. This can give rise to a cause of action known as "wrongful birth."

Again, the threshold for malpractice is high here, and if it's determined that only a specialist could have diagnosed your child's condition, it's unlikely that your doctor will be held responsible -- even if this failure to diagnose has created serious or lifelong consequences for your child.

On the other hand, if your child's issue could have been easily diagnosed at a routine ultrasound, through blood tests you had during your pregnancy, of after hearing any unusual symptoms you were experiencing, your physician may be responsible for his or her failure to notice or treat any problems with your child's health or potential birth complications.

What should you do if your child suffered an injury at birth and you're not sure of the cause?

Cases of clear medical negligence or recklessness are rare; birth defects are, unfortunately, much more common. While it can be tempting to want to point blame for your child's condition at anyone nearby (including yourself and your spouse), this process often isn't conducive to achieving acceptance of your child's limitations or his or her traumatic birth experience.

However, if your child suffered a serious injury and you're not quite sure why, it's worth investigating. You may find that you're entitled to compensation to help cover the cost of your child's treatment. If your doctor is deemed responsible for your child's birth defect by a court of law, you'll receive a judgment to help offset any medical expenses and emotional trauma you experienced as a result of your inadequate medical care during pregnancy and birth. If your claim has merit, it's likely your doctor will opt to settle the claim before it is tried in front of a jury.

You'll want to consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can go through your child's medical records and piece together exactly what happened and whether it was reasonably preventable. You'll need to have a strong, organized claim before filing the case to increase your chances of a quick settlement or judgment.