Michigan Lawyer Aaron Larson

Common Birth Injuries

Important Notice

The following article is an introduction to a complicated topic. You should not take anything in this article as indicating that you do or do not have a valid malpractice action. That determination should only be made after a thorough review of your case by a malpractice specialist. Remember also that attorneys may have different perspectives on your case -- even if your case is initially declined, don't be afraid to seek an opinion from another law office.


When evaluating a birth injury in Michigan for possible medical malpractice, it is important to recall that Michigan has a special statute of limitations for injuries to children resulting from malpractice. While ordinarily a minor has a year after they reach the age of majority to bring a cause of action for an injury they suffered during childhood, the rules for medical malpractice are much more restrictive.

In general, a cause of action for medical malpractice must be filed within two years of the act or omission that forms the basis of the claim. If the person injured by malpractice does not discover the existence of the claim within that two year period, and the failure to discover the claim is deemed reasonable under the governing legal standard, a cause of action may be filed for up to six years after the act or omission, provided it is filed within six months of discovery.

In addition to those general rules, a cause of action for a minor may be brought at any time before the minor's tenth birthday, or at any time before the minor's fifteenth birthday for injury to the reproductive system. Certain exceptions and varations of these rules may apply to specific malpractice cases. It thus makes sense to have your child's situation reviewed by a malpractice attorney as soon as you suspect that malpractice has occurred - if you wait too long, your child's legal remedies may be forever lost.

What Is a Birth Injury?

The terms "birth injury" or "birth trauma" ordinarily refer to injuries to a baby that result from complications during labor and delivery.

Common Birth Injuries

Birth injuries range from mild to severe, ranging from minor bruising to nerve or brain damage. The fact that a birth injury occurred does not necessariy mean that it resulted from medical malpractice. A lawyer can assist you in evaluating a specific incident for the possibility of malpractice. Common injuries include:

Bruising and Forceps Marks - As a result of passage through the birth canal, and from associaed contact with the mother's pelvic bones and tissues, sometimes a newborn baby will have bruising on the face or head. If forceps are used during delivery they may leave temporary marks or bruises on the baby's head. In extreme cases, forceps use can cause depressed skull fractures which may require surgical elevation. Vacuum extraction can also cause brusing to the head, and may cause a scalp laceration.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage - This common birth injury results in bright red band around the iris of one or both of the baby's eyes. This condition does not cause damage to the eyes, and the bands usually disappears completely within a week to ten days.

Caput Succedaneum - This is a severe swelling of the baby's scalp, which is more likely to occur as a result of vacuum extraction. The swelling will ordinarily disappear within a few days.

Cephalohematoma - This term refers to bleeding between a bone and its fibrous covering. With regard to childbirth, this type of injury is typically seen on the baby's head. If a cephalohematoma is particularly large, the baby may become jaundiced as the red blood cells break down. A cephalohematoma will ordinarily resolve within two weeks to three months.

Facial Paralysis - Pressure on the baby's face during labor or birth, or the use of forceps during childbirth, may cause injury to a baby's facial nerves. When a nerve is merely bruised the paralysis will ordinarily clear up within a few weeks. With more severe nerve damage it may be necessary to surgically repair the damaged facial nerves.

Brachial Palsy Injuries (Erb's Palsy and Klumpke's Palsy) - brachial palsy can result when the brachial plexus (the group of nerves that controls movement of the arms and hands) is injured. This injury most often results from "shoulder dystocia", a term which describes birth difficultes which result when a baby's shoulders impair its passage through the birth canal. When injury causes only bruising or swelling, the baby will ordinarily recover within three months. In more severe cases there may be permanent nerve damage, and physical therapy and surgery may be required.

Fractured Bones - The most common bone fracture during birth is to the clavicle (collar bone), usually during difficult births or breech delivery. In most cases the baby recovers quickly once the bone is immobilized.

Brain Injury - Birth difficulties can result in oxygen deprivation to the baby as a result of blood loss, or the twisting or compression of the umbilical cord. Prolonged oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage, and may result in seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, or mental impairment.

Causes of Birth Injuries

Injuries to a baby are more likely during a difficult delivery. The difficulty of delivery is affected by such factors as:

  • The Baby's Size. When a baby weighs more than eight pounds, thirteen ounces (four kilograms), birth injury becomes more likely. Similarly, premature babies (those born before 37 weeks) are more susceptible to injury.
  • Cephalopelvic Disproportion - A fancy way of saying that the size and shape of the mother's pelvis is not adequate for the child to be born by vaginal delivery.
  • Difficult Labor or Childbirth ("Dystocia"), or prolonged labor.
  • The Baby's Position - a "breech birth", where the child's buttocks or legs are presented first, is more likey to result in birth injury.

If a mother experienced complications during a prior birth, doctors should be on alert for possible complications during any subsequent birth.

Medical Malpractice

Medical error can cause birth injuries, or can increase their severity or permanence. Medical errors which may support a malpractice action includes:

  • Failing to anticipate birth complications with a larger baby, or in cases involving maternal health complications;
  • Failure to respond appropriately to bleeding;
  • Failing to observe or respond to umbilical cord entrapment;
  • Failure to respond to fetal distress (including irregularities in the fetal heartbeat);
  • Delay in ordering cesarean section (c-section) when medically necessary;
  • Misuse of forceps or a vacuum extractor during delivery;
  • Inappropriate administration of Pitocin, a synthesized hormone used to induce or augment (speed up) labor.

The potential for injuries to a baby do not stop with birth. Injury can also result from poor care delivered after the birth, including mistakes made during a circumcision or failure to properly attend to an infection.

In evaluating a possible malpractice claim, an attorney will ordinarily want to review all of the baby's medical records, including those associated with the child's birth and neonatal care, and may wish to also have them reviewed by a nurse or physician.

For more information on medical malpractice, please see this associated article:


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